Tinariwen speaks on the coup in Mali

Tuareg musicians Tinariwen, on tour in Europe these days, spent some time in Belgium this weekend. Belgian public broadcaster VRT [they’ll do a feature on Mali blues once a year, usually at the end of June, covering the one high-profile ‘world music’ festival Brussels has in summer, squeezing them into a one-minute slot alongside performers from the Balkans, a visiting Soukous star, a French rapper and a Jamaican reggae artist] asked Tinariwen members Eyadou Ag Leche and Mina Walet Oumar what they made of the coup in Mali. It’s a short but useful video interview since most of what we get to read in international media over the past weeks are translations of and interviews with the military commanders of the coup, and then some other wires by foreign journalists based in Bamako. I haven’t read much reports coming from the north, i.e. from the Tuareg front. Below’s a brief translation of the VRT’s interview with Tinariwen’s guitarist and singer:

Eyadou: Our music was created under the same circumstances as the American blues. It was created in exile. We’ve been living for years as exiles between Algeria, Libya and Niger since the 1960s until 1990.

Mina: Our people have been dying because of bombardments by the Mali army. They’re nomads. Not rebels. People who have nothing to do with the war. They don’t make war.

Eyadou: The Tuaregs want independence. This is nothing new. We’ve wanted this since the French have left. For thirty years we have big problems: we don’t have hospitals, schools… We don’t feel Malian. We live under the same [Mali] flag, but we don’t consider ourselves true Malians. (…) The coup in Mali serves us because the people will start looking at Mali. They will direct their attention to Mali and see what’s happening there. People will start to understand Mali’s reality. Many people knew what was happening there but closed their eyes to it. (…) From Timbuktu to Gao, the border between Niger and Algeria … that is our country, that is our territory, that is where our families live. That belongs to us. We’re not colonizing anything; we have been colonized ourselves.

Asked about the Libya-Gaddafi-Al Qaeda-Tuareg connection:

Mina: We’re not bandits. We’re not terrorists. We’re a people who claim their rights. Our rights have been ignored for more than 50 years by the Malian state. Our people fighting there right now are no Al Qaeda people. It’s true that some among them have returned from Libya, but they just returned to their homes. They were born in our region, left, and have now returned.

Eyadou: Our cause is here, now, and it’s a cause that won’t go to sleep.

If you’ve been following Tinariwen and reading (or listening to) their lyrics, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

What was new to me though, were the numbers cited in the VRT program’s debate after the interview. Estimates are that Libya returnees joining the Tuaregs’ ranks numbered less than 200 (some of the Gadaffi soldiers also joined the government’s army before the coup), bringing along their weapons, but apparently enough to defeat the 7000 men strong Malian government army — and take over half of the country (including Timbuktu and Gao).


17 thoughts on “Tinariwen speaks on the coup in Mali

  1. There was a very informative interview last night on the WVKR 93.1 FM First World Music Radio show with a Malian professor at Carlton College by the name of Cherif Keita. Professor Keita spoke about how the Tamasheq dont have the right to seek self determination for the Azawad state in northern Mali because they share the territory with other ethnic groups. Keita was also very critical of the ATT regime political elite. The very interesting discussion of politics in Mali can be streamed here: http://firstworldmusic.org/7-links.html (skip past the first couple songs).

  2. also, that’s not Wounou, it’s Mina Walet Oumar (their original female singer), who now lives in Germany and has joined them for at least the European part of the tour.

  3. Thanks for sharing Tom. I am a big fan of AIAC and Tinariwen. I am surprised you think that there are few sources out of the North.

    The MNLA has a spokesperson in Paris and a vibrant website. They have been very media/tech savvy and have done a great job of shaping the narrative out of northern Mali.
    The MNLA do not represent all Tuareg and certainly do not represent all the people of northern Mali, but the Tuareg have certainly been cited more than the Songhai, Bellah or Peuhl who also call northern Mali home.

    Even those who agree with or at least sympathize with goal of an Azawad state cannot deny that the MNLA/Ansar Dine have severely mistreated the civilians in the towns of Timbuktu and Gao. Again, that is not an indictment on the Tuareg people. I am not in the business of blaming a people for the actions of individuals.

    I respect Tinariwen and their views on the coup, but I must say that my friends and family in Gao are telling a very different story:


    Again, thanks for posting this. AIAC is indispensable and I am grateful for your always thoughtful insight.


    • Thanks for your comment, Peter. I could have been more specific about which international media I was referring to. Yes, there’s information available about and from the north; but little of that made it into the press I was reading and following over the weekend. Basically because most of the reporters that flew in are lodged and/or stuck in Bamako. (If they’re in Mali at all…I keep coming across reports on Mali that were written and dispatched from Paris, New York, Johannesburg or London.)

  4. Hello Tom, I am glad I found this version of your article with at least some interesting reactions. I read your article on another website and wrote a commentary that I will reproduce below, parly updated:

    Let Tinariwen stick to music in stead of commenting on the situation in the North of Mali. In this interview their vision is revealed as far too simplistic to be of any value with comments on bombardments (their was just one bombardment during the recent struggle), Al Queda (islamists are definitely fighting alongside Mnla and profiting from their advances), numbers of ex-Libyan forces entering Mali (the numbers are subject to controversy).

  5. By the way, I continue to wonder about the title of this blogsite. “Africa is a country”. Huh? Africa is a continent and apparently falling apart in more countries. The same holds true for America, no that’s two continents (and I keep wondering why USA-citizens are always referred to as “Americans”)

  6. I love their music but I can’t say I’m surprised that their statements correspond to MNLA propaganda. This isn’t just an issue of Tamashek (Tuareg) self-determination. As Zach Rosen noted (citing Cheik Keita), there are more ethnic groups in the northern Mali than just the Tamashek. The fact that Tinariwen and MNLA claim Gao as part of Azawad is absurd. Gao is and has been a Songhai city for at least the past 500 years (Songhai Empire anyone?) and the Songhai have far more in common with the rest of the inhabitants of Mali than do the Tamashek. The same is true of the Fulani. This is a power play by the Tamashek to seize exclusive control of land that doesn’t belong exclusively to them.
    Furthermore, the Malian military has been trying to exercise restraint with the Tamashek forces – it was this restraint that led to ATT being deposed by angry soldiers who wanted to bring the fight to the rebels. Tinariwen would paint the Malian military as oppressors and frankly that isn’t true.
    I would hope that fans of Tinariwen would be able to separate their admiration for excellent music from whole-hearted support for an oversimplification of a complex political situation.

  7. Kalao is right–keep it on the music. What’s being said might be deeply felt, but as romantic as it is, it is also reductive and misleading. This kind of ethnic nationalism is toxic stuff.

    • I can’t speak for Tinariwen nor for their fans; but we can ask for balanced reporting (which is the post’s initial intention). That aside, I’m not convinced by the appeal to keep it ‘on the music’. Isn’t Tinariwen’s music (and lyrics) through and through political?

      • Hi Tom, of course Tinariwen is thoroughly cultural and their texts may be political (but I don’t understand Tamashek). That said, I am glad that this post is giving rise to some balancing reactions like the one by Zach Rosen, Peter Tinti and C Bailey.

  8. Tinariwen wouldn’t exist without the political context, so it’s difficult to say “stick to the music,” however, the truth is that most Tinariwen fans do not understand the lyrics or the context of the political situation. All the members of Tinariwen are heavy supporters of the separatist movement of MNLA, their families and friends are part of the rebels. And what they say in the interviews, alas, is too simplistic (none of the members know how to write and read properly, which probably make it hard for them to get enough information on the more complex political issues) and they give a romantic picture of the whole rebellion, along with their image as desert rock stars. This can give very misleading ideas and superficial support by the international public. It’s unfortunate that the members of Tinariwen really push their identity and culture, singing songs about the desert and their Tuareg brothers (and the costumes, they rarely wear those off-stage), but they do not understand nor respect other cultures. (especially regarding women)
    (a little irony – Tuaregs lost control of the their land due to the French, and Tinariwen’s manager is French. They seem to be making a lot of money now from this manager’s skills.)

  9. Excerpt of Pastor Nouh Ag Infa Reacts to Ansardine’s Political Platform
    Source: http://www.maliweb.net/news/interview/2013/01/14/article,118220.html

    To which Golden Age, the black and white KelTamasheq can jointly look back, when they were united and happily enjoying together the same rights and privileges? Is it the Middle Ages and its slavery practices that you wish to bring back, because after a mere 50 years since the departure of France, you realize that your historic privileges are fast crumbling and will be gone forever unless you regain control over the descendants of the former black African slaves? And shamelessly today, you tell the international community that you hold dear the “historic ideal of your unity” with the blacks while positioning yourselves as the people whose rights have been confiscated and who are in need of reparation. Is that not what the KelTamasheq call “the camel who throws down its rider and cries the first for help”? And what place do you have in your struggle for the black Africans who are not part of the Arab-Tuareg society and also for the other black Africans living in Northern Mali? The words Tuareg and Tamasheq have been used in your rebellion since June 1990. The Tamanrasset Accords and others have benefitted only the white Arab-Tuareg at the exclusion of the black ones. History must teach Black Africans that for nothing in the world, they should let themselves be lured under your umbrella, no matter how sweet your discourse becomes. For it is false and deceitful just like during all your rebellions without exception. Unity is to be shown in actions and not written only in a political platform. And it is obvious to everyone that the few blacks who may be with you are only puppets who count for nothing either in the Arab-Tuareg communities or among the black Africans and do not represent any viable future anywhere. How pathetic they are! (More to come)
    Pastor Nouh Ag Infa
    Translated from French by Cherif Keita

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s