Tinariwen’s Savvy Seven

Since forming in 1979, the GRAMMY award-winning Saharan Desert rock group, Tinariwen, have expanded their audiences across five continents with hundreds of concerts, honing their music skills to a fine point. Through countless world tours, eight albums and influencing the likes of Thom York & TV On The Radio, Tinariwen have proved that they are kings of the desert blues genre – so it is no surprise that they are (once again) nominated for the 2018 Best World Album GRAMMY Award.

Collectively hailing from Adrar des Ifoghas – a Saharan mountain range that straddles the border between north-eastern Mali and southern Algeria – they are a musical phenomena of a truly universal calibre. Most recently, the band have wrapped up working on their eighth album Elwan (The Elephant), which was released via Anti-Records and features collaborations with Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan.

The band will be showing off some of their unmistakable desert-blues groove on their upcoming Aussie tour, so we thought we’d better sit them down for a Savvy Seven before they get swept up in all the touring goodness.

1) Who was your first musical inspiration? Why? Who inspires you now?

Our inspiration comes from old traditional Tuareg music such as “The Tinde”, along with other Tuareg styles based on the use of imzad (violin) and takamba (percussion). But also occidental music from the sixties and seventies: Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, James Brown, Fela Kuti, Bob Marley.

2) What advice do you have for someone who is about to set off on their first tour? Or their first album?

Going on tour is exciting but also exhausting! My advice would be to get as much sleep as possible before leaving your home! When recording an album, your songs need to be finished, it seems obvious but it is not always the case. It makes the process a lot smoother.

3) What has been one of your most defining moments in your career?

It all started when we met the French band Lo’jo at the Festival Au Désert in Tin Essako. They invited us to play in Europe in the early 2000’s, and afterwards we played several European festivals. We were the first band from the Sahara to perform in Europe, so the media and audience started talking about us… Later on we received support from artists like Santana, Robert Plant, Bono. We won a GRAMMY in the USA in 2011 for our album ‘Tassili’ – it was a great achievement!

4) How has your approach to your own music changed over time? (writing, recording, collaborating, etc)

We have four songwriters in Tinariwen: Ibrahim, Hassan, Eyadou and I, Abdallah. Every Tinariwen song starts with one of us, then the whole band contributes to the arrangements. We’ve always worked with producers to help us shape our sound, and then we tend to invite more and more musicians to work on our albums. We think collaborations are important to stay fresh and relevant!

5) My top business tip for new artists is…

Business is not really our concern, we are lucky enough to have management who take care of our business. We always talk together about what we are looking for and about the overarching strategy – it is important to have trust in the people you work with.

6) My biggest career mistake has been… has this changed how you approach the industry?

We make mistakes all the time. But this is how we move forward, we learn from our mistakes!

7) In my opinion, the most important issue facing the music industry is…what do you think can change that?

There is so much new music being released every day. It’s hard to keep up and to dig up the good stuff in this continuous flow of newness. I think that when a band/an artist is sincere and if they are not in a hurry, they can touch people slowly – and slowly for a long time. This is what we do.

You can get tickets to Tinariwen’s tour here and check out some of their new tunes below!

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