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Sounds of the world : The roughness of Tuareg music

In the 2021 Gram­my Awards, the Tua­reg music group Tina­ri­wen was nomi­na­ted in the cate­go­ry “best world music album”.  Often repre­sen­ted in a mys­te­rious way, Tua­reg music is still insuf­fi­cient­ly known glo­bal­ly. Com­mon­ly known as the blue men, there are a mil­lion and a half Tua­regs living bet­ween 5 dif­ferent coun­tries at the gates of the Saha­ra, divi­ded into seve­ral tribes. What musi­cal influences can we find in these spaces ?


A female musi­cal heritage

First of all, the Tua­reg come from dif­ferent ori­gins, main­ly a mix­ture bet­ween Mali, Alge­ria, Niger and Bur­ki­na Faso. They sing most­ly in Ber­ber tama­jeq and their music is played main­ly by women. This noma­dic people ope­rate on a matri­li­neal sys­tem : that is to say that goods are owned by women and trans­mit­ted bet­ween them.

It’s the­re­fore women who play the two main ins­tru­ments of Tua­reg music, the tende and the imzad.  The tende is a drum made from goats­kin on a mor­tar for sin­ging, and the imzad is a one-string fiddle. Chants using tende often include female choirs and a soloist respon­ding to the choir.


An open­ness to modernity

In the 1970s, the appea­rance of the acous­tic gui­tar ente­red Tua­reg com­mu­ni­ties mar­king a change in their music. This was fol­lo­wed by the arri­val of the elec­tric gui­tar a lit­tle later, lea­ving a mono­po­ly to men. The ins­tru­ment gai­ned momen­tum and allo­wed a reap­pro­pria­tion of the Tua­reg musi­cal reper­toire. Some women have tried to defy the pro­hi­bi­tions by taking over the use of the gui­tar, like the band Les Filles de Illi­gha­dad. Their music is a hybrid, half­way bet­ween tra­di­tion and moder­ni­ty that employs elec­tric gui­tar and reuses tra­di­tio­nal ins­tru­ments in a form of homage to their culture. The group has been invi­ted around the world and has alrea­dy per­for­med on seve­ral inter­na­tio­nal scenes. The inter­na­tio­nal export of Tua­reg music breaks the cli­ché of being an exclu­si­ve­ly local music. Howe­ver, this prac­tice lar­ge­ly remains reser­ved for men. 

In May 2021, Les Filles de Illi­gha­dad have relea­sed a new album At Pio­neer Works, recor­ded before the health cri­sis. This album, at the cross­roads of blues, folk and tra­di­tio­nal music, is a breath of fresh air. Through the sounds of the world, their music addresses the themes of love, war, the condi­tion of women and the dai­ly chal­lenges of Tua­reg life.


A poli­ti­cal and revo­lu­tio­na­ry message

The recur­ring themes of the songs are Afri­ca “without bor­ders”, the living condi­tions of nomads and their poli­ti­cal demands. This music is consi­de­red a pillar of the revo­lu­tio­na­ry concep­tion. Born during the inde­pen­dence revo­lu­tions of the 1970s, the tur­ning point in Tua­reg music seems to a large extent to sup­port the Tua­reg musi­cal rebel­lion. Kader Tarha­nin, Tua­reg artist, tes­ti­fies « Every day we learn of the death of our loved ones because of the conflicts in the region. » Today, the par­ti­cu­la­ri­ty of Tua­reg artists is to trans­form music with cultu­ral sounds into modern music in line with the poli­ti­cal claims of its time.


Kader Tarha­nin and Sidi­ki Diabaté


the author :

Moha­med Chaia is a french first year student at Sciences Po Paris at the Europe-Afri­ca pro­gramme. He grew up in the small town of Vaulx-en-Velin in Lyon, and is pas­sio­nate about arts and music.  He has been prac­ti­cing pia­no and sin­ging for a few years and more recent­ly has been spe­cia­li­zing in afro­beats hip hop dance. He would later like to pro­duce his own fic­tion around life in wor­king-class french neigh­bo­rhoods and musi­cal prac­tices, in a mini-series for­mat. His sen­si­ti­vi­ty to social pre­ca­ri­ty issues led him to found the Coeur Ban­lieu’Z­har asso­cia­tion that sup­ports people in need by dis­tri­bu­ting food eve­ry weekend.

pho­to :
Les Filles de Illi­gha­dad © Face­book Sahel Sounds


Cet article en anglais est le résul­tat d’un pro­jet col­la­bo­ra­tif entre #Aux­Sons et Ale­jan­dro Abbud Torres Tori­ja, pro­fes­seur à Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims, et contri­bu­teur régu­lier d’#AuxSons. Dans le cadre du cours “Sons du monde : la musique comme miroir de l’intime et du col­lec­tif” des étu­diants inter­na­tio­naux de Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims se sont pen­chés sur les liens entre musiques des quatre coins du monde et enjeux sociopolitiques. 

This article is a result of a col­la­bo­ra­tive pro­ject bet­ween #Aux­Sons and Ale­jan­dro Abbud Torres Tori­ja, lec­tu­rer at Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims, and regu­lar contri­bu­tor to #Aux­Sons. As part of the class “Sounds of the world : Music as mir­ror of the inti­mate and the col­lec­tive”, inter­na­tio­nal stu­dents from Sciences Po Paris Cam­pus Reims pre­pa­red articles pre­sen­ting contem­po­ra­ry music from dif­ferent parts of the world in connec­tion with recent socio-poli­ti­cal events.

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