Tag Archives: rebellion

the talking cat of azawad

In the past year, the Northern portion of Mali slipped into chaos, leaving it without military or law. Islamist militants with a bad habit of kidnapping Westerners took control of the cities, and even the most dogged reporters beat a hasty retreat to the capital. Western media empires constructed around the need to report, instead turned to the internet sources, cellphone photos, and cryptic utterances on Facebook walls. Timbuktu was again the fabled city of Caillié, a closed mystery that not even the combined forces of CNN, BBC, RFI, and the mighty Al-Jazeera could penetrate.

It’s not surprising then that the most ambitious sources of Northern Mali “news” has invoked the authority of newsroom reporting. During the past months, “Tamositte n’Azawad” (“the Kitten of Azawad” – facebook) has been issuing broadcasts on the situation in the North, with a penchant for satire and comedy. The creation of a collective of young Tuareg women living abroad in Sweden, Tamositte has been one of the most consistent media voices. Utilizing an iPhone/Android App known as “Talking Tom Cat”, the tool has been transformed into a new media mouthpiece, addressing very specific particulars of the conflict that are glossed over by international media: alliances between MNLA and Ansar Dine, critiques of hypocrisy of the MUJAO factions, and ousting of corrupt politicians.

I spoke to one of the creators of Tamositte. Her goal, she said, was to raise awareness amongst the Tuareg in the North. By connecting with youth in these cloistered towns such as Kidal, she could comment on these topics of discussion concerning the Tuareg community. Tamositte videos have undoubtedly found their way from Facebook and onto cellphones, the messages relayed throughout the scattered populations of the besieged Northern towns with a comic authority that resonates. As the international community advances to chase out foreign extremists in the North, it will be greeted by the Tuareg, but the international media may not be so welcome. A new adversary has taken its place.

That ain’t workin’, that’s the way you do it…

The Tuaregs consist of a variety of tribes, stretching across the center of the Saharan desert, East of Mauritania, across Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya. In the past, the Western association was with “blue men” in the desert, the fierce resistance to colonization, the romantic myth of the desert nomad. Today it is impossible for the West to speak of Tuareg without the obligatory reference to the Tuareg guitar.

Koma and Attaye, two acoustic guitars in Kidal

The Tamashek guitar, or “ishumar” (A French deriviation of chomeur, or “unemployed”) was borne in the rebellion. After the first rebellion, the youth that had left for Libya for military training in the war with Chad returned to Mali — without any education or opportunity.

Interview with Initriy and Tahieat (French)

Origins are difficult to ascertain, but Tinariwen of Tessalit, Mali are popularly considered the pioneers. The music of Tinariwen is traded across Mali, via the Tamashek. Numbering only 600,000 but stretching over thousands of kilometers — the Malian Tamashek community is like a small town, and everyone knows everyone. But the heart is definitely in the North of the country.

Ishumar guitar music is preferably played with the electric guitar (for its responsive touch, both solo and rhythm) bass, percussion (calabas, djembe, or drum kit), and singing and hand claps. It is almost always played in a pentatonic scale (familiar immediately for the “blues” component), with a droning bass note and syncopated treble that accompanies the singing. One chord is often sufficient. but with tremolos and impressive solos. A friend remarks that tremolo of “false” notes are what separate Tamashek guitar from Sonrai guitar. “It plays better with the way they speak.” And certainly, the language Tamashek is full of bent and ululated vowels, placing it closer to Arabic in sound then with its cousins to the South. While the music has certain roots in traditional Tamashek guitar, the influence of Western music (cassettes of Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix most substantially) cannot be ignored. And today, as is common throughout the Sahara, the favorite guitarist amongst the younger generation: Dire Straits.

Talking with a former rebel/musician: “Dire Straits is the number one guitarist for the Tamashek. If he held a concert here…no…all the Tuareg – Algeria, Libya, Niger – would come to Kidal.” Mark Knopfler, are you listening?

Abba and Ahmedou Ag with acoustic guitar, Timbouctou

Sarid Ag and Doni with electric guitar, Kidal