It is the hour before sundown in the desert town of Kidal and Ibrahim Ag Alhabib - aka 'the ragamuffin kid', as his nickname translates from the Tamashek - is talking about his previous incarnation as a guerilla fighter. Is it true that during the Tuareg rebellion that started in 1990, he waged war against the Malian government with a Kalashnikov and a Stratocaster strapped across each shoulder? 'That's exactly what happened,' he says softly.Read More
Ibrahim looks like Keith Richards's younger cousin and is the charismatic star of Tinariwen, the most thrilling act in world music right now. Their third album threatens to turn them into bona fide rock stars. But Ibrahim also waged war against the government from this outwardly inhospitable corner of eastern Mali.
The Tuareg are the descendants of tribesmen described by Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century BC and ran the trans-Saharan trade routes for more than two millennia. Known as the Blue People, because indigo dye in their shawls stained their skin, they kept black slaves, rode camels and were simultaneously feared across vast swathes of this part of Africa and mythologised in the West.
The rhetoric of rebellion is embedded in the DNA of rock music, and tales of Tinariwen's involvement in the Tuareg struggle for liberation - following independence for Niger, Mali, Algeria, Libya and Burkina Faso in the 1960s - have added to their own mystique. The truth is inevitably complex and to find it necessitates a bone-jarring journey to what is still rebel territory.
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