Tinariwen Threatened Ahead Of North Carolina Concert Date The band of Tuareg guitarists — who have faced down Islamic extremism at home in Mali — are receiving violent threats and racist responses to a scheduled concert in North Carolina in September.

Mali's 'Guitar Gods' Tinariwen Receive Racist Threats Ahead Of U.S. Tour

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A guitar band called Tinariwen is famous worldwide.


SHAPIRO: Their fans and collaborators have included Robert Plant, Thom Yorke of Radiohead and Bono of U2. They have fought extremism in their home country of Mali and been victims themselves. Now ahead of a show in Winston-Salem, N.C., commenters on social media are leveling violent, racist attacks against the musicians. Joining us to discuss the situation is NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.

Hi, Anastasia.


SHAPIRO: I know you've followed this band for years. Tell us more about them.

TSIOULCAS: They're a group of nomadic Tuareg musicians from the northern end of Mali in the Sahara Desert. And they've been hailed as guitar gods. And here they are playing with Nels Cline of the band Wilco.


TINARIWEN: (Singing in foreign language).

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what we're hearing here.

TSIOULCAS: Well, you can hear all those wonderful rolling guitars. You can hear how they're fusing electric guitars with traditional rhythms and aesthetics.


TSIOULCAS: The band's name literally means deserts in their language, Tamashek. And you get that desert feeling in all their work.

SHAPIRO: And the first time you saw them was in their home country of Mali, back when it was a safer country than it is today. What was that like?

TSIOULCAS: Yes. It was a life-transforming experience. In 2003, I was lucky enough to travel to see them in the Sahara at an oasis about 40 miles outside of Timbuktu, which gives you a sense of how remote it was. And this was the performance that really catapulted them to worldwide attention.


TSIOULCAS: And ever since, they've been touring the world. And their next U.S. leg is this fall.

SHAPIRO: People who've been following the news from Mali will know that Islamist extremism has been a huge problem there. And musicians have been a target. So how did that affect this band Tinariwen?

TSIOULCAS: Right. Back in 2012, 2013, Islamist groups in northern Mali really tried to take over the region and also made musicians one of their prime targets. And, in fact, one of the band's own members, one of the vocalists for Tinariwen, was kidnapped in early 2013.

SHAPIRO: What happened to him?

TSIOULCAS: Intidao, the name of this vocalist, was, thankfully, released a short time later. But it - of course, it's had an enormous impact on the band. And many of the group's lyrics actively rebuke fundamentalism.

SHAPIRO: So you have this group that is singing against fundamentalism, that has been kidnapped by Islamist extremists. And then they're scheduled to play a gig in Winston-Salem, N.C., in September. And what happens?

TSIOULCAS: So the club, which is called The Ramkat, put up a social media ad on Facebook advertising the show. And these hateful, racist, inciting comments started rolling in. And a few days ago, a local weekly alternative paper, the Triad City Beat, wrote about the situation. And earlier today, I talked to one of the owners of the club. His name is Andy Tennille. And here's what he had to say.

ANDY TENNILLE: If any of these commenters had done any sort of homework, they'd find that the band and the Tuareg people have been marginalized their entire lives. And Tinariwen themselves have stood up to some of these kind of hateful and racist forces in North Africa. And probably the most disappointing thing of all is we're talking about these misguided commenters, and what we're not talking about is what an incredible band Tinariwen is.

SHAPIRO: And is the show going to go on?

TSIOULCAS: Yes. And the club owners say that after all these hateful comments, they've been really heartened to see a lot of positive comments and ticket purchases as well. So Tinariwen is planning to play at The Ramkat on September 17. And Andy Tennille, the club owner, says that they're going to increase security measures around that show.

SHAPIRO: And we should let listeners know Tinariwen is on a U.S. tour and will be playing a lot of different cities through September and October. That's NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas.

Thanks so much.

TSIOULCAS: Thanks for having me, Ari.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In earlier audio and web versions of this report, Andy Tennille was mistakenly referred to as Andy Neville.]


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