Tuareg musicians Tinariwen, on tour in Europe these days, spent some time in Belgium this weekend. Belgian public broadcaster VRT [they’ll do a feature on Mali blues once a year, usually at the end of June, covering the one high-profile ‘world music’ festival Brussels has in summer, squeezing them into a one-minute slot alongside performers from the Balkans, a visiting Soukous star, a French rapper and a Jamaican reggae artist] asked Tinariwen members Eyadou Ag Leche and Mina Walet Oumar what they made of the coup in Mali. It’s a short but useful video interview since most of what we get to read in international media over the past weeks are translations of and interviews with the military commanders of the coup, and then some other wires by foreign journalists based in Bamako. I haven’t read much reports coming from the north, i.e. from the Tuareg front. Below’s a brief translation of the VRT’s interview with Tinariwen’s guitarist and singer:

Eyadou: Our music was created under the same circumstances as the American blues. It was created in exile. We’ve been living for years as exiles between Algeria, Libya and Niger since the 1960s until 1990.

Mina: Our people have been dying because of bombardments by the Mali army. They’re nomads. Not rebels. People who have nothing to do with the war. They don’t make war.

Eyadou: The Tuaregs want independence. This is nothing new. We’ve wanted this since the French have left. For thirty years we have big problems: we don’t have hospitals, schools… We don’t feel Malian. We live under the same [Mali] flag, but we don’t consider ourselves true Malians. (…) The coup in Mali serves us because the people will start looking at Mali. They will direct their attention to Mali and see what’s happening there. People will start to understand Mali’s reality. Many people knew what was happening there but closed their eyes to it. (…) From Timbuktu to Gao, the border between Niger and Algeria … that is our country, that is our territory, that is where our families live. That belongs to us. We’re not colonizing anything; we have been colonized ourselves.

Asked about the Libya-Gaddafi-Al Qaeda-Tuareg connection:

Mina: We’re not bandits. We’re not terrorists. We’re a people who claim their rights. Our rights have been ignored for more than 50 years by the Malian state. Our people fighting there right now are no Al Qaeda people. It’s true that some among them have returned from Libya, but they just returned to their homes. They were born in our region, left, and have now returned.

Eyadou: Our cause is here, now, and it’s a cause that won’t go to sleep.

If you’ve been following Tinariwen and reading (or listening to) their lyrics, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

What was new to me though, were the numbers cited in the VRT program’s debate after the interview. Estimates are that Libya returnees joining the Tuaregs’ ranks numbered less than 200 (some of the Gadaffi soldiers also joined the government’s army before the coup), bringing along their weapons, but apparently enough to defeat the 7000 men strong Malian government army — and take over half of the country (including Timbuktu and Gao).

Further Reading