What’s more extraordinary however is Bombino’s fame at home. He’s become a bona fide head-turning airtime-hogging star in his own country, not just amongst the Touareg, who mainly live in Niger’s northern deserts, but amongst the youth of the entire nation. That’s something that no other Touareg artists has ever managed to do, not even Tinariwen.
It was a small consolation, but one of the few positives to come out of the occupation of the northern two-thirds of Mali by armed jihadist groups in 2012 was the informed analysis of Andy Morgan. At the height of the crisis, Morgan seemed ubiquitous in the western media – on radio, television and in…
BOOK EXTRACT: In important ways, the scenes of vandalism and destruction that were played out in Timbuktu following the Salafist takeover in April 2012 weren’t new at all. There was something very old about them. Mostly white Arabic or Hassaniya speaking men from the northern deserts were ‘teaching’ the blacks how to worship Allah in the ‘proper’ manner.
BOOK EXTRACT: Life in the early 1990s was convivial. There was music. Women felt free to come and go. Some people smoked cigarettes and drank alcohol. The bonds between those young Touareg, their music and their culture seemed strong and unbreakable. No one quite knows why some senior Touareg figures from the northeast, including Iyad Ag Ghali, began to succumb to the message of Pakistani preachers belonging to Tablighi Jama’at.
BOOK EXTRACT: In Gao, a group of teenagers sat around a ghetto blaster listening to Bob Marley. A Landcruiser pick-up loaded with tooled-up Islamic police came by and seeing the reggae fans, stopped and accosted them. “This music is haram!” – forbidden by Islamic law – said one of the MUJAO men as he yanked the cassette out of the blaster and crushed it under his feet.
The word ‘nomad’ might make us dream about freedom, but in the southern Sahara it actually describes a man locked in a pitiless and epic struggle against drought, locusts and oblivion. The scrubland of the Azawak, an immense and table-flat plain in the northwestern corner of Niger, is home to two nomadic peoples, the Touareg and the Woodabé, who have been intimate with this daily existential grind for centuries.
I just learned that Rhissa Ag Ogham, one time guitarist and singer with the Touareg group Terakaft, died in a car accident a week ago. Apparently he was driving back to Tamanrasset from Libya with his father, who also died in the accident. Rhissa toured Europe with Terakaft back in 2007 and 2008, and played…
In terms of music and culture, the Sahara is like an inland sea, where the sounds, tastes and colours of peripheral ‘port’ cities like Marrakesh, Sijilmassa, Timbuktu, Agadez, Ghardaia, In Salah, Ghat, Ghadames, Tunis, Tripoli, Siwa, Cairo, Walata, Chinguetti, Djenné and Kano have mingled for centuries.