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 of the World Music Institute 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.

"Achibaba" 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, she released one of my favorite albums from last year, the title of which 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.

"Afelan" 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. His first record, Afelan, released on the Sahel Sounds label, which includes this title track of the same name, was recorded live and showcases his raw talent.

"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, that will be performing its U.S. debut concert this December in New York at (le) poisson rouge, 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 in Mauritania 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 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.

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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 World Music Institute in New York and was the cofounder and executive producer of the Trinumeral Music and Arts Festival. He is a curator, writer, musician, and DJ. World Music Institute (WMI) has served as one of the leading presenters of international music and dance within the United States for more than 30 years. WMI has presented more than 1,500 concerts and events featuring artists from more than 100 countries across all continents.