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Tinariwen On World Cafe

The only aspect of Tinariwen more urgent and heartbreakingly human than its unique blend of electric rock and North African traditional music is its story. Tinariwen's members fought as rebels in Mali to protect their land and the Tuareg people, and out of the rebel camps formed a counterculture — and a rock band. Against incredible odds of survival, the men and women of Tinariwen have recorded five successful albums, headlined major international festivals and solicited attention and collaboration from the likes of Wilco and TV on the Radio. Music is often written to glorify a certain way of life, but few bands create music to preserve their way of life — and, when not playing together, pick up weapons to defend it.

Tinariwen's fifth and latest album, Tassili, demonstrates a return to the group's semantic and literal roots. Its name means "deserts" or "empty spaces," and it was recorded on acoustic instruments in the desert near the border of Algeria and Libya. Tassili explores the ideas of loneliness, vulnerability and doubt alongside those of hope and community. It celebrates generations of Tuareg people whose relationship with the desert involved all of these ideas. Blossoming in the unexpected intersection where blues, rock, African tribal chants and Middle Eastern traditional music overlap, Tassili is a desert flower that brings life and color to the harsh landscape that surrounds it.

Here, Tinariwen performs songs from Tassili on World Cafe.

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