Running trade routes between the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan Africa for centuries, the traditionally nomadic, desert-dwelling Tuareg people have long inhabited a space where cultures intersect. For the past 40 years, traditional Tuareg music has been undergoing a guitar revolution. In this playlist, Artistic Director for The Rhythm Foundation Par David Neiburger delves into the genre's major players, including Mdou Moctar who will play a free show at the David Rubenstein Atrium this month, presented in collaboration with World Music Institute.

"Cler Achel" by Tinariwen
This song is a great starting place to dive into the deep Tinariwen catalog. At nearly 40 years old it is arguably the most well-known Tuareg band, having played concerts and major festivals worldwide and having recently won a Grammy in the United States.

"Eghass Malan" by Les Filles De Illighadad
Fatou Seidi Ghali is one of only two known Tuareg women guitarists in Niger. As a duo with her cousin Alamnou Akrouni, in 2016 and 2017 they  released two of my favorite albums in recent years. Their band name translates as "The Girls of Illighadad," the name of their tiny village in Niger.

"Tisnant An Chatma" by Tamikrest
This group of young musicians has often been regarded as the legitimate heir of Tinariwen and it represents some of the best music of the next generation of Tuareg musicians. As a means of preserving Tuareg traditions, the band sings exclusively in the Tamasheq language of the Tuareg.

"Amidnine" by Bombino
Omara "Bombino" Moctar is Niger's Tuareg guitar hero. Bombino has been compared to artists such as Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana—comparisons that generally get thrown around all too easily but Bombino shreds in a way that makes such praise well deserved.

"Tanzaka" by Mdou Moctar
Mdou Moctar has been known for venturing into unique territories that his other Tuareg counterparts have not, including using autotune in his music and starring in a Tuareg version of Prince's seminal film Purple Rain. This track, "Tanzaka," from his most recent release Sousoume Tamachek on the Sahel Sounds record label demonstrates the depth of his musical development. 

"Tarha Tadagh" by Imarhan 
Led by Sadam, the youngest member of Tinariwen, Imarhan, are a young Tuareq bands from Algeria. The band is a rising star in Tuareg guitar music as it is becomes more widely known throughout the globe.

"Isouwad" by Anewal
Alhousseini Anivolla was the lead singer and guitarist of Etran Finatawa, one of Niger's best Tuareg desert blues bands. After Etran Finatawa disbanded he formed a new project, Anewal. The band performed their U.S. debut concert this past December in New York at Rockwood Music Hall, presented by World Music Institute.

"Ewellan" by Koudede
The world sadly lost a truly great musician when Koudede died in a car crash in 2012. Koudede was one of Niger's finest Tuareg guitarists and recorded not only as a solo musician but also with the legendary Group Inerane, leaving behind a small but essential body of recorded work.

"Algahem" by Terakaft
Terakaft is an offshoot of Tinariwen, founded over 15 years ago by Diara, an original founding member of Tinariwen who eventually left to start his own band. As one of the most respected bands from Azawad, the band is a family affair fronted by Diara with two of his nephews, Sanou and Abdallah Ag Ahmed.

"Al Jahalat" by Tartit
Tartit is a Tuareg band of five women and four men that was founded in a refugee camp that, as with many Tuareg bands, became more widely introduced to audiences by performing at Mali's now-defunct Festival au Désert. The increasingly popular Tuareg band Imarhan (aka Imarhan Timbuktu, not to be confused with the band Imarhan led by Sadam of Tinariwen) is an expanded band that includes current and former Tartit members.

"At Oui Tass" by Amanar
Amanar is at the forefront of more contemporary directions for Tuareg desert blues music. Based in Kidal under the leadership of Ahmed Ag Kaedi, its music has recently become more known to Western audiences, as Ahmed Ag Kaedi was prominently featured in the recent Mali Blues documentary alongside Bassekou Kouyaté and Fatoumata Diawara.

"Tenere" by Afous d'Afous
This Algerian band is one of the most famous Tuareg bands in Africa, though it is currently hardly known to Western audiences. The band takes a more eclectic approach to their recordings, and its album Tenere, of which this song is the title track, is one of the more complex and compelling Tuareg albums released in recent years.

"Ashal Wali Tigeli" by Group Inerane
Bombino is not Agadez's only guitar hero, although he may be the most well known. Group Inerane is led by Agadez guitar hero Bibi Ahmed as it carries the rich tradition of Tamasheq guitar songs, often entering into full-blown electric guitar psychedelia territories that sets its music apart from many of its contemporaries.

"Aicha Talammont" by Imarhan Timbuktu
Imarhan (aka Imarhan Timbuktu, not to be confused with the group Imarhan from Algeria led by Sadam ) is a band that formed in 1993 and has been playing throughout Mali and abroad ever since. This live track from an album by Imarhan and Tartit is a wonderful recording.

"Imouhagh Siwlat" by Ahmed Ag Kaedi 
Ahmed Ag Kaedi is a Tuareg guitarist from the far northeastern section of Mali. When extremists took over Mali and banned secular music in 2012 he returned home from a trip in the desert to find his house in flames and threats of physical violence leveled against him if he continued to play his music in his homeland. His plight was featured in the recent Mali Blues documentary alongside Bassekou Kouyaté and Fatoumata Diawara. He is the leader of the aforementioned Anawar, as well as a consummate solo performer.

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Playlist: Tuareg Guitar Revolution
Photo by Dennis Fuller
Par David Neiburger

About the Curator

Par David Neiburger is the Artistic Director for The Rhythm Foundation in Miami and works in music programming for several venues in New York City through his company Eulipion Sounds. He was the Artistic Director of World Music Institute in New York from 2014-2018 and was the cofounder and executive producer of the Trinumeral Music and Arts Festival. He is a curator, writer, musician, and DJ.