There is a saying that it only takes one drop of water to make the glass overflow. Let’s hope that proves to be the case with Aman Iman (Water is Life), the third album from Tinariwen, the fabulous exponents of an intoxicating brand of desert blues.
Admired throughout their North African homeland and by world music fans, they are yet to make a major breakthrough in the West.
Tinariwen first emerged as musical standard bearers for a youth rebellion which swept the post-colonial states of North Africa in the 1980s and 1990s.
At the root of this revolt were the unemployment, poverty and social exclusion being suffered by the Berbers, the indigenous population of the region, who prefer to be called the Amazigh, or “free” peoples of North Africa.
The form the uprising took was against the “Arabisation” of Berber culture. The Berbers originally lived all over the north of Africa.
Berbers played a leading role in all of the struggles to free North Africa of French colonialism. But the combination of capitalist forms of agriculture, the discovery of oil and geopolitical rivalries began to transform the coastal states of Morocco, Libya, Algeria and Tunisia.
They devastated the nomadic lifestyle of the desert people in the interior.
For the younger generation the only options were either to join the urban proletariat of Algiers, Tangier or Cairo or to get out altogether – the largest Berber population outside of North Africa now lives in France.
In 1973, the worst drought in living memory drove thousands of young tribesmen, or Touaregs as they are known by Europeans and Arabs, into the neighbouring states of Libya, Algeria and Burkino Faso.
Among those who arrived in Libya were the founding members of Tinariwen. Here, they began to pick up musical influences from Bob Marley and John Lennon on the radio and started to revolutionise their own musical heritage.
In 1990, Tinariwen became involved in a guerrilla war against the black African governments of Mali and Niger, where Berbers had been persecuted.
The members of Tinariwen originally came from the desert town of Kidal in north eastern Mali, where women and children had been murdered and driven from their homes by the army.
Tinariwen not only took part in the struggle against the Malian authorities, they provided the soundtrack.
Buy this album, it’s a blinder. Catch Tinariwen if you can on their next tour – they play the Barbican in London on 24 March.