Whenever one of the members of Tinariwen, or any of the other Tuareg bands for that matter, is being interviewed, a subject that always pops up is the Tuareg struggle for independence. Is that a subject you've grown tired talking about?
Eyadou Ag Leche (bass): "No, it's not a subject we mind talking about. The struggle is part of our everyday lives, so why would we mind talking about it? We're happy someone finally wants to listen so we can explain the situation we are living in."
The last few months a lot has changed in the countries of the Maghreb. Will this so-called "Arab Awakening" also impact Tuareg life?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "Let me start by saying we are very happy with the evolutions we saw in those countries. The Tuareg have known the term "freedom" for centuries, so we definitely know what we're talking about and peace and democracy are things we wish everyone to enjoy."
One of the slain dictators, Muammar Gaddafi, had always been a close ally of the Tuareg, no?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "Well, what happened is that in 1973, when the Tuareg were suffering a great drought, Gaddafi opened the Libyan borders and later started training the Tuareg rebels. To this day, there are still Tuareg living in Libya."
Tinariwen's first album was called ‘The Radio Tisdas Sessions'. How important is that radio station for the Tuareg people?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "For most Tuareg, the radio is the sole means of communication. For example, when a Tuareg loses one of his goats, he can ask the radio station to broadcast a message; it's not like here in Europe, where radio has more of an amusement/entertainment function."
The title of your most recent album, 'Tassili', is a reference to the region in Algeria where you recorded the album.
Eyadou Ag Leche: "Yes, exactly. Tassili is the name of a valley in the south of Algeria. In that valley there's a small village called Djanet, mostly inhabited by Tuareg people. We really wanted to visit that place again, because it had been close to thirty years since we'd last played there. I don't think I have to tell you the vibe was great."
There are quite a few Tuareg bands touring Europe these days, all performing mostly in their native tongue, Tamashek. Most westerners don't speak that language and don't understand your lyrics. In your opinion, what then lends Tuareg music its universality?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "The subjects we sing about in our songs come straight from the deepest parts of our souls and we don't really care if it's commercial. We try to communicate with our music regardless if our audience speaks our language or not. Just recently we've also started adding translations of our lyrics to the liner notes of our albums."
The style of music Tinariwen plays is sometimes also referred to as "assouf". What does that word mean?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "The word "assouf" is used to describe a profound sense of nostalgia coming straight from the souls of the Tuareg. I can't explain it better than that."
With Tinariwen you guys travel all over the globe, so it's not completely different of the nomadic lifestyle of the Tuareg, but what do you miss the most on these long tours?
Eyadou Ag Leche: "What we miss the most is the silence and our camels and of course things like the heat and the clear skies full of stars at night; in one word: the desert!"