Morning Music: Iswegh Attay

Tinariwen Tassili

Tinariwen is a band from northern Mali in the Sahara Desert. They’ve gained a huge following around the world including in the US. In 2012, they won the Grammy for Best World Music Album. To be honest, I don’t even know what “world music” is. It sounds like something I should hate. But I always enjoy Tinariwen’s music. They can produce a groove as well as any group in the world.

The song I’m featuring is “Iswegh Attay.” It is off their Grammy-winning album Tassili. I assume the title refers to Tassili n’Ajjer, a huge national part in Algeria — in Tinariwen’s neck of the woods (or desert).

Joining the group on guitar and vocals is American musician Kyp Malone. The song is written by Mali musician Sanou Ag Ahmed.

Song Meaning

The lyrics to the song are curious but I’m not sure if that isn’t just due to a bad translation. It repeats the line, “I drank a glass of tea that scorched my heart.” So the singer seems to be wounded, emotionally.

But he also expresses regret that he can’t open up to the outside world. And the song ends with a telling comparison:

The lion is intrepid and the frog is vulnerable
But the latter is better at finding the path to water.

He seems to be saying that one needs to risk harm in order to get what they need to survive. It’s striking. I know well the feeling that I must change to make my life better but being completely incapable of it.


Tinariwen Tassili via Wikipedia under Fair use.

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