By Rayme Samuels
Bringing the soulful sounds of Africa to our shores is Tinariwen. The nomadic Malian group will perform during the Heineken TransAtlantic Festival on Saturday, April 25 at the North Beach Bandshell.
What do you want the people of Miami to know about African music, specifically music from Mali and the Sahara?
Well first of all, we'd like them to know that African music exists. Because there are a lot of people out there who don't know that. And we also want them to know that it's through music that many people can come to understand Africa, and realize that it isn't just a continent of misery and catastrophe, but one that has a lot to offer the rest of the world. And through our people we'd like people to feel the wonder of our desert home . . . one of the most peaceful and beautiful places on earth.
You've played for presidents, prime ministers and ambassadors all over- how important is it for you to tour and share your music around the world?
Tinariwen was created to transmit a message. At that time, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the founding members of the group like Ibrahim, Inteyeden, Hassan and Diarra were talking mainly to their own brothers and sisters in the desert. They wanted to raise awareness about the plight of the Touareg people, the political oppression, the lack of water and education, the pain and misery of exile, the homesickness. It's a message about the desert, about its beauty but also about its problems. So it's very important for us to share our music as far and wide as we can. If we just sat at home, no one would be the wiser.
Who are you influenced by musically?
Everybody in the group has their own tastes and influences. But there's one element that's common to everyone . . . and that's our own traditional Touareg music. It's the strongest ingredient in our music. On top of that are all the other north African and African influences: Algerian rai music, Moroccan groups like Nass El Ghiwane and Lemchaheb, Mauretanian music especially Dimi Mint Abba, Egyptian singers and then of course the late great Ali Farka Toure . . . who was a big influence on every musician in West Africa. From the west, there are those in the band who love Jimi Hendrix, Santana, Led Zeppelin and Dire Straits.
How would you describe your sound?
Our sound is traditional music interpreted in a modern way, on guitars. We call it 'assouf'- the music of nostalgia, of homesickness, of the pain inside. It's our blues music. But people often think we were influenced by the American blues. This isn't the case. We'd never heard any American blues before we travelled to Europe for the first time in 1999 - unless you count Jimi Hendrix.
What are your lyrics about?
Our message is all about the desert, our home. We sing about our love for the desert, for its people, its culture, its peace, its natural wonders. But we also sing about its problems: the tribalism and infighting, the lack of education, the oppression of outsiders, the pain of living in exile, far from home and family, the loneliness of its huge spaces.
What do you look forward to most at the Heineken TransAtlantic Music Festival in Miami?
I don't think we've played in Miami before, so it'll be great to visit such a famous city.
Details: 7 p.m. at North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; Tickets: $20 / $25 door