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Tishoumaren, Tishumaren, Tichoumaren, or Tichumaren, (ⵜⵉⵛⵓⵎⴰⵔⴻⵏ in Neo-Tifinagh script) is a style of music in northern Africa. The musical style took shape as an expression of the difficult sociopolitical situation of the Tamasheq people (or Tuareg, as they are commonly referred to by others) after colonial powers left North Africa. The word Tishoumaren is derived from the French word chômeur, meaning "the unemployed". Sometimes simply called "guitar music,"[1] the style takes inspiration from the emergence of the Tamasheq as a people and a culture amidst violent turmoil in post-colonial North Africa. Today, the style remains politically critical, although it has become less associated with the violent rebelliousness that started it.

Historical background[edit]

The Tamasheq live in a region of North Africa that covers large portions of the Sahara across the modern-day national boundaries of Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya, and Chad, and to a lesser extent, reaching into Burkina Faso and Nigeria. At the turn of the 20th century, the Tamasheq were subjected to French colonial government after lengthy resistance. With the departure of colonial powers in the 1950s and 1960s, the lands inhabited by the Tamasheq were split primarily between the four new countries of Mali, Algeria, Niger, Libya, and Chad. For the next few decades, natural resources diminished due to increasing desertification while the post-colonial political and economic structures struggled. As a result, the Tamasheq have encountered hardship for survival in a number of ways.

In 1973, a major drought forced many of the Tamasheq people throughout the deserts to reconsider their traditional way of life as nomadic herders. Many took refuge in urban centers across the region, but with many lacking 'formal' education, the Tamasheq were largely unemployed. The term ishumar began to be used describing young Tamasheq. A unique culture began to arise among many of the economically and politically marginalized youths, sometimes rebellious or revolutionary in nature, reasserting a cultural pride.

Many young men took employment in a Tamasheq military unit being assembled by Libyan military leader Muammar al-Gaddafi. Besides receiving military training and weapons in the Gaddafi-sponsored camps, many of the young Tamasheq men were also exposed to revolutionary ideas, pan-Africanism, and popular music. In the decades to follow, the Tamasheq were involved in extended episodes of violence and rebellion against the various governments in the region, both as victim and perpetrator. The stories of socio-political unrest have been relayed through music, contributing to and partially shaping the Tamasheq people's culture and ideals.

In 1979, a group of musicians within camps sponsored by Gaddafi formed a musical group called Tinariwen. Being the first Tamasheq group to feature electric guitars, Tinariwen is regarded as an originator of the style. During rebellion against the government of Mali, Tinariwen's music was spread via audio cassette through the camps. In the early 1990s the group began to gain wider exposure through association with the French band Lo'jo. Additional distribution methods and festivals aided in increasing the styles popularity. As a result, other bands began to incorporate the style.

The style is performed in concerts and festivals, combining traditional and modern instruments, themes, and styles.

Musical style[edit]

The style mixes electric blues with Middle Eastern and African sounds.[2]

Tishoumaren as a musical style is different from traditional styles of Tamasheq music in a few ways. The group of performers is much smaller, being around 10 as opposed to around 30. The music is also based on the sound of the electric guitar.

Other groups have incorporated the Tishoumaren style into their performances. Tinariwen and other groups such as Etran Finatawa and, to a lesser extent, Tartit, feature Tishoumaren along with other traditional Tamasheq styles.


  1. ^ Rasmussen, Susan J. (7 April 2019). "Between Several Worlds: Images of Youth and Age in Tuareg Popular Performances". Anthropological Quarterly. 73 (3): 133–144. doi:10.1353/anq.2000.0007. JSTOR 3317938.
  2. ^ "Saharan musicians win Uncut award". 9 November 2009 – via news.bbc.co.uk.

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