Amman Imman Hits the Road with Desert Nomad Band, Tinariwen

special contribution to the blog by Julie Snorek

Several months ago, as I was listening to Tinariwen’s newest CD entitled “Aman Iman,” I couldn’t help but think that the project Amman Imman and this Malian music group should bridge a partnership over such common ground – Water is Life. Both the world-class musicians and our nonprofit hold a common goal - to bring hope and life to the people of the Azawak. This idea, followed by a phone call to Ariane Kirtley and an introductory letter to Tinariwen’s manager, Andy Morgan, sent Debbie Kahn and I on tour, following the band from Montreal to Quebec City, Boston to Burlington. During the 4 days with Tinariwen, we shared information on the water crisis in the Azawak and leaflets with the more than 3,000 concert-goers, who, like us, saw the significance of our efforts and wanted to do more to help.

I first met Ariane, the project’s founder and director at a Tuareg festival called the Cure Sallee in August 2005 during my 2-year Peace Corps volunteer service. She agreed to drive me back to my village from the festival grounds, what was to be a 2-day trip. Along the way, we talked about the place she had just experienced for the first time – the Azawak and the Fulbright research she was doing there. She explained how this trip had changed her life; because, in all her travels throughout Niger, never had she seen people who are dying in such numbers because they lack access to water. As a volunteer living in the greener zones of the Sahel, it was alarming to me that this problem wasn’t being met by the somewhat overwhelming number of aid organizations working in Niger, nor the Nigerien government.

During that ride and several other, consequential excursions to the Azawak, I experienced firsthand the challenge of finding water in this pastoral region and fell in love with the enchanting people who cared for and housed me under their leather tents. Now, having finished 2 years of work in Niger, I’ve returned to Vermont, USA. Of all the humanitarian work I experienced there, I can’t think of a project that deserves my energies more than Amman Imman. And, as a volunteer I hope to share Ariane’s vision that I first glimpsed so long ago traveling together in 2005. My first effort to do so begins with this most unexpected partnership and tour with a crew of nomad singers.

Tinariwen’s lyrics summarize the situation in the Azawak. They sing of wandering through blank landscape, times without water and hope, thoughts of home and being unable to return due to drought. The life of the nomad is one full of longing, a search for survival, for water and pasture, knowing that death comes easily, and happiness is fragile. Tinariwen play the poetry of their home, accompanied by modern guitars. The lyrics are tales ages old that still ring true today, of people whose strength has been grinded down through the trials of colonialism and post-colonial discriminatory government policies, but who have maintained their pride, humor and courage.

I spoke in depth about the water issue with one of the senior musicians, Abdullah. He talked about a borehole that he frequented as a young child. It was built in the 60's by a foreign oil company that was drilling in the northern Sahel in a region that was virtually desolate – no people, no pasture, nothing. The oil company was disappointed when all they discovered in the region was a deep, underground river of pure water that is said to flow out of Algeria. They built three boreholes in the area. It was around these water sources that Abdullah’s family nourished themselves and their herds. And the water from these sources continues to give life to people in this region today. Then, he explained how rare such reliable, permanent water sources are and how lucky his family was to benefit from such a source.

Amman Imman’s story about building boreholes in the Azawak struck a chord with audience members. A dramatic table display of photographs of the children of the Azawak drew people in to learn more about the culture the band was singing about, and their story of a life seeking water. A story board told about the children who die every day because this water is not found by the young girls of the family in time to save them. As the Azawak becomes more engulfed by the desert to the north with greater impacts from global climate change, this search will be more and more difficult. Our efforts helped broaden the understanding that is needed to provide water sources in the Azawak. Each evening, people understood more about the need to help and opened up their wallets with contributions.

But, the momentum of the tour was small in compared to what more work still needs to be done. Amman Imman is only effective when this story is continuing to be told, and more money is raised for a new borehole.

As readers of this blog, you have the opportunity to join in whatever creative way you can think of to help raise awareness and funds. If you are a teacher, ask your children to produce artwork to sell for the boreholes. If you are active in your community, ask the town to sponsor “A Walk for Water.” Give a presentation at your university or host one at your house. Our small efforts combined can change the world for the children of the Azawak.
Eyadou talks with concert goers in Quebec
We hope this New Year allows the project to add two new boreholes to the already momentus one. Not a single child of the Azawak should be dying in this age of innovation and technological achievement, simply because he or she lacks access to any kind of clean water. A clean drink of water is a human right. I look forward to reading others’ accounts of how Amman Imman is coming alive in your local communities.

With hope,
Julie Snorek
Concert goers at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts learn about Amman Imman

At the Palais Montcalm in Quebec City, Tinariwen fans look at the display

Julie talks with a fan at Club Soda, Montreal

Julie with Sayed and Hassan in Boston

Debbie with Eyadou and
Tiddo in Quebec

Julie on the Tinariwen tour bus


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