Tinariwen and Tamikrest, two Tuareg bands from Mali, tour the world. Dressed in their traditional robes, with turban or chèche on or around their heads and guitars in their hands, they play dust-dry music that exudes an exotic charm for a Western audience. But they are only the top of the sand dune.
"As if one listens to a drop falling into a deep well," Robert Plant described his feelings when he first heard the music of Tinariwen. In 2003 he appeared with the band from Mali on the stage of the "Festival au Désert". The live recording of the desert event entered the World Music Charts worldwide. It was the initial spark and a foundation stone for the vitality of today's music scene in Mali and the attention it attracts worldwide. Tinariwen are certainly not the only renowned band from Mali today and they certainly weren't the first.
Hypnotic rhythms, strangely tuned electric guitars, exotic instruments, beguiling melodies, African call & response songs - somehow ancient, archaic. This music from the Sahel region is often referred to as "Desert Blues" or "Desert Blues". Terms invented with a mixture of arrogance and ignorance in Western culture. Similar to the term "Krautrock" for psychedelic music from Germany almost 50 years ago, the label "Wüstenblues" has two sides: On the one hand, the term is too general, as it encompasses different styles, on the other hand, it characterizes an actually existing otherness and originality.
Impressed, but not influenced
Ali Farka Touré is considered the "King of the Desert Blues": The "Rolling Stone" named the Malian, born in 1939, one of the 100 best guitarists in the world. He is the first Malian musician who caused an international sensation. His rhythmically plucked solos on guitar and ngoni as well as his nasal singing became his trademarks. The album "Talking Timbuktu" recorded in 1994 together with the US guitarist Ry Cooder won a Grammy. The BBC once called his music the "West African variant of the delta blues by Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker". A mistake Touré exposed as such. At a press conference two years before his death in 2006, he dictated to the white journalists the answer to their question about the origin of the blues: "You know the branches, we in Mali have the roots and the trunk. I know what I'm playing myself, nobody has to tell me that." Yes, when he first heard John Lee Hooker in 1968, he was impressed. But uninfluenced.
Another legend of desert blues is Boubacar Traoré. Unlike Touré, Traoré (born 1942) was influenced by US blues. Traoré ended his career with the fall of the Malian government in 1968, after he had risen to become Mali's most popular musician. For 20 years he retired, worked in agriculture and as a tailor. The public assumed he had died. Since 1990 he has regularly released albums and remains true to his Spartan style, influenced by his voice and acoustic guitar.
Toumani Diabaté (born 1965) is regarded as the greatest Kora player in the world. The album "In The Heart Of The Moon" (2005) with Ali Farka Touré also received a Grammy. Diabaté has always been open to Western influences, calling the Scorpions his teen idols and collaborating with artists as diverse as Taj Mahal and Björk.