There’s a tendency among Western people to romanticize that which seems exotic to them. Whether the yogic practices of India, philosophies of the Far East, or the spirituality of Native Americans, it doesn’t seem to matter. They imbue them with all sorts of mystical qualities, that may or may not have anything to do with the original practices, and believe they have found the secret to living a better life. Of course they also conveniently ignore the fact that so much of what they think of as answers are practices that have evolved through centuries of living under specific conditions and which might not have any practical application in another environment.
It’s only been in the last decade or so the nomadic people of the North Sahara Desert in Africa have come to the attention of people in the West. The Tuareg pre-date the introduction of Islam and speak a Berber language, Tamasheq, related to ancient Egyptian, with an equally ancient alphabet and script known as Tifinagh. Pastoral nomads, primarily herdsmen who relied on their flocks for survival, they currently are spread out over a territory that includes Libya, Niger, Algeria, Mali, and Nigeria. Since the early 1960s they have been involved in sporadic uprisings against the various governments in the region in an attempt to preserve the land so integral to grazing their nomadic lifestyle. However, only since former rebels have formed musical groups like Tinariwen has the world at large taken any notice of their situation or the people themselves.
While the bands might sing about their culture and traditions, they do so in Tamasheq, which means the majority of their audience really aren’t hearing what they are singing about or gaining any insights into the world they come from. Anyway, for the most part, the bands are making music for their own people, not for foreign consumption, which means the lyrics are only going to be truly understood by those already steeped in that culture. Therefore, while it’s true they are getting out the message to the rest of the world about their struggle to survive, we actually know very little about them — their stories, their cultures, or their traditions.