Monthly Archives: February 2012


Agali Ag Amoumine see previously, with an album recorded by sahelsounds in 2009 — a raw session of hypnotic takamba, the traditional tuareg and sonrai music: Agali on the electrified tehardent accompanied by Alhassane Maiga on calabash. Originally distributed by cassette and cellphones, now with an official vinyl/bandcamp release!

tales of exile

Ahmed’s guitar band Amanar takes their name from the constellation Orion; by virtue of an old story, one of many about a great Tamashek warrior by the same name. As the story goes, Amanar, an grand and imposing figure, accidentally bumped into a woman milking her goats to feed her children, and the bowl overturned, spilling the milk into the sand. The warrior grabbed a handful of desert and squeezed, wringing the milk back into the bowl. The mother was satisfied as was Amanar, but the earth was furious. It promised the warrior, “When you die and your body is buried, I’ll squeeze you twice as hard for eternity!” The sky however took pity on the warrior who could never be buried in the ground, but as a consolation placed his body in exile amongst the stars.

Tuareg guitar, for the uninitiated, falls somewhere between the Berber guitar of North Africa and the pentatonic rhythms of Ali Farka Touré — invoking the now cliche image of the musician, guitar slung over shoulder and Kalashnikov in hand. Not that the picture is entirely false, though nearly always misrepresented and deformed into something else, plucked out of the desert and broadcast on the Colbert Report, appealing to a common myth of rebel chic.

The foundation of the music however is rebellion, the style was formed and refined in Libyan camps of exiled Tuaregs, and the content of the music has never strayed far from these origins — lyrics that invoke struggle and suffering or outright appeals and calls to arms. It’s particularly poignant now, as another rebellion has ignited in the North with a force not seen since 1990. The same songs that have been circulating for the past twenty years in concerts in Bamako, marriages in Kidal, or in bedrooms of Tamashek ishumar from Algeria to Niger, are again speaking with a renewed fury.

An old song by a guitarist named Hamadine — the refrain which translates to: “There’s blood being spilled, why aren’t you saying something?”:

Ahmed Ag Kaedi / Amanar – Hamadine (cover)

Amanar is Kidal’s town band. But Kidal is empty, turned battleground. The group has scattered, some in the desert around Kidal, others in Algeria. Ahmed, the band leader and soloist is in the capital of neighboring Niger.

“Now is the time to write new music. The Tuareg are in exile. This is the time to say something.” We’re sitting at the house of his brother-in-law, where not a few Tamashek families have been circulating through the past few days. Tuaregs have left Bamako in droves fearing racial attacks, and the Northern towns have been emptied as the families go into their desert camps. “A lot of people are listening to my music and telling me what I wrote came true.”

“Before I believed that all the Tamashek had the same objective,
Now, I don’t know.
One morning that surprised us in pain.
Every where I look, I see our people running away.
In whose hands are we leaving Kidal?”
– “Alghafiat”

Amanar’s song Alghafiat translates into “Peace” — but it should not be misconstrued as counter-rebellion. Rather, it’s an appeal to unity amongst the Tuareg, an end to tribalism, class-ism, and corruption in the North. It’s a departure from the old rebellion anthems with a clear enemy in the powerful Malian state. The song accuses the new ruling class of the powerful figures that operate with almost complete transparency: the well respected Tamashek elite who earn their fortunes from drug trafficking, the politicians who navigate side dealings with Al-Qaedi, and the heads of various NGOs, lining their pockets with diverted aid money. It’s a song that has success in Kidal and across Mali, “because everyone thinks it’s talking about someone else, when it’s really talking about them.”

Amanar – Alghafiat

The battle continues to rage, and the confusion of the rebellion has made it impossible to return home for the moment. Ahmed says he will continue to work, that now is the time to speak. It’s fitting perhaps, that like Amanar the warrior, it’s in exile that their message will be heard.


The flag of the independent autonomous region of Azawad is a variation on the green, yellow, and red found across the continent. But for the inclusion of black. It recalls the flag of Palestine, an ally at least in a similar struggle for statehood against an overpowering military foe. It’s a new flag, designed to distinguish from the multitudes of previous rebellions. What makes this flag unique is the speed of dissemination.

The current Tuareg rebellion is a complex mess of factions — rebels in exile in Algeria, defected Malian military, and most importantly, pro-Khadaffi Tamashek fleeing Libya with all sorts of heavy artillery. The semi-official mouthpiece of the rebellion is the MNLA, with its own Facebook page, a flurry of activity the past few weeks as the rebellion has evolved from argumentative discourse to live fire attacks. Yet while invoking comparisons to Tunisia or Egypt, the role of the Facebook is simply in dissemination of information, a window or secondary source, as members post updates called in from villages in the North. It is a tiny segment of the population with regular internet: students, youth in the cities, and government officials, voicing their concerns with minimal repercussion throughout the Tuareg community — their work becoming influential only when it jumps to cellphones.

“Our internet is the Chinese cellphone,” a friend says. “I can go three months without looking at the internet, but I can’t go a minute without someone showing me something on their cellphone.” And since January, the new rebellion has utilized this network to galvanize the population with pro-rebellion material. In addition to the graphic montages in longtime circulation, the new rebellion has spurned all types of graphic experimentation and creativity — both prior and after battles. The first attack in Menaka, for example, a town that is as of this writing in the hands of the rebels, announced the attack with a flyer that could just as well of been designed for an upcoming party (albeit a rather sparse party in the middle of the desert). And when recent battles at Aguel’hoc were played down by Malian government as bearing only a few military casualties, cellphone photos and videos bodies recorded by students quickly made their way to Bamako prompting protests and marches by military wives throughout the capital, effectively shutting down the center of the city in protest.

For the moment, the North is in an effective quarantine, and mobilization is severely limited. The territory is isolated by asphalt and fiber optics, yet the digitization of the rebellion is in full effect. Misinformation and rumors are rampant and the transparency long promised by “The Internet” is delayed. But when the North reopens and the cellphone stream begins to flow, the story of the rebellion will be told. From rebel factions hiding in the mountains, to the military garrisons in their bases, to the civilians watching illuminated mortars streaking through the night, camera phones to the sky, digitizing the revolution.