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Rebel Music

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Not all bands have an interesting origin story, but Tinariwen's is a doozy.

At age 4, during an uprising in Mali, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib witnessed the execution of his father, a Tuareg rebel. Around the same time, Ag Alhabib saw a Western film that featured a guitar-playing cowboy. Without a father, he followed the rebel movement and played music. In the late 1970s, he finally combined the two, forming a group with other rebel musicians. With no official name, people called them Kel Tinariwen, or "the People of the Deserts."

In the 1980s, Ag Alhabib joined the Tuareg rebel movement in Libya and met fellow musicians Keddou Ag Ossade, Mohammed Ag Itlale, Sweiloum, Abouhadid and Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni. This musical collective dropped the "Kel" and became just Tinariwen. After a peace agreement, they quit soldiering -- but they didn't stop playing music.

And -- kind of like an Africian-infused Crazy Horse -- they rock. Tinariwen’s celebrated third album Aman Iman (Water Is Life), is filled with wild grooves, chanting and more wailing than you can shake a divining rod at. The men sound like they could be 100 years old, while the women sound like schoolchildren. And even though Tinariwen sing in another language, the guitars do most of the talking as they slip and slide around each other in a sidewinding fashion that begs for repeated listens.

The band is set to release Tassili, their fifth effort, on Aug. 30. When they play the Belly Up on July 12, they'll no doubt play some of their new material, and it's sure to be an intense, resonating night of music. Get your tickets here.

T. Loper is a writer and photographer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.

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