These are just a few of the ways we think about water in the physical sense. The cooling relief of a summer rain. The gentle bead of moisture on a flower. Tears of joy and sorrow. A soothing dip in the ocean or a pool. A refreshing glass of water on the hottest day. An invigorating shower or bath. So much of our daily life revolves around water in fact. From the water needed to make that first cup of coffee in the morning to plumbing, we rely on our ease of access to it.
Recently I have found myself taking close up photographs of water, toying around with my camera settings to alter the final appearance. It has been a surprising experiment seeing the end result. I have always taken shots that involve water of course, be it a walk along the river here in New York, or the Atlantic Ocean from the steep cliffs of Ireland. But taking closeup photos of the movement of water has been enlightening for two reasons.
First, on the photography side, the closeup shots reveal different colors and textures. Ripples of water caught in the suns reflection became almost like alternating blocks with multi-colored patterns dappled with little pinpricks of light. Or in even the smallest waterfall, the free flowing ‘dance’ the water makes as it runs down to the next level. One moment it is a mere trickle, while the next it splashes in all directions with exuberance. Using the tools on the camera, these moments can become frozen in place, preserving the movement as though it were cast in stone. For an element that is defined by movement, water can look interesting when the camera traps it in place.
Second, it has made me think about water itself. For most of us we have an overall abundance of water. We can swim in pools, water our lawns, and we can even indulge in drinking flavored or special water when mere tap water won’t do. The fact that I can take artistic photographs of this resource while so many people here in parts of the U.S. and throughout the world struggle daily with having both a constant and clean supply of water has left me conflicted. Beyond the headlines in places like Flint, Michigan, and drought in California, is the reality that water has become a real serious issue now throughout the world. It certainly is a common theme for the musical choice for this post-the mesmerizing Tinariwen who come from one of the driest places on earth-the Sahara Desert.
For over 10 years now, no group has dominated the World Music scene more than Tinariwen has. The accolades and admiration for them from the likes of Robert Plant, The Rolling Stones, Carlos Santana, and U2 among others has helped, but the sheer power of their music transcends the star factor. The music is born out of hardship and a life most of us could not imagine, all set to a dynamic guitar sound. Driving rhythm punctuated by nothing more than a simple drum and handclaps. Above it all, honest lyrics not aimed towards producing hit records but focused instead on the reality of their lives. It is fierce. It is powerful. You want real music? There is nothing more real out there now than Tinariwen.
Tinariwen are Touaregs, nomads of the Sahara, sometimes also referred to as the blue men of the desert by way of the often richly colored robes they traditionally wear. Though Tinariwen themselves come from Mali, they consider themselves of the Sahara, calling themselves the Kel Tamashek, meaning ‘The Tamashek speaking people.’ The origins of the group go back to 1979, when the Touaregs were at war with the Malian government after seeking some level of territory and autonomy. The original founders of the group, led by the wide eyed, wild haired and compelling figure of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib formed in a refugee camp. As the legend generally goes, they put down their weapons and picked up guitars instead, bolstered by the cassettes being passed around of Algerian Rai and by musical rebels such as The Clash, Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix.
As time went by their music spread throughout other Touareg areas, from cassettes passed around. The songs spoke of their history, their struggles, and life in the Sahara. Over time more people became aware of their unique music, which became part invention on their own part combined with a bluesy sort of sound. Its a gritty, guitar driven music, fueled by both African and American influences. After hearing the first few chords, you know you are hearing something truly special, the authentic sounds grabbing you deep in your soul. The trance like grooves carrying you to the Sahara on a wave of guitars, funky bass and percussion. Seeing Tinariwen live is to witness something very special. The band are in fact a collective of musicians and singers. A core group literally tours the world, while other members only record, so you never know quite who will be on stage when you go to one of their concerts. Regardless, it is something truly unforgettable. Either because of circumstances, or foolhardiness on my part, I never saw The Clash, or Bob Marley, or Johnny Cash live, true musical rebels who had the power to grip you emotionally within the first few moments. But I have seen Tinariwen and I carry those performances with me still.
Despite the political upheaval and turmoil, the group still love the Sahara, and their songs sing praises of its beauty. But as you can imagine, water remains an issue for the peoples of the Sahara. As I did research for this post and read the lyrics to the songs again, I realized this remains a pivotal issue. In the song Djeredjere- “This year I’m at rock bottom. My soul is thirsty, Give me water.” In Awa Didjen-“The sun, the wind and even more, But the worse for them is the lack of water.” In Enseqi Ehad Didagh-“I have travelled for days across the desert of anxiety. I’m thirsty, parched, my heart and soul crave water.” They named an album Aman Iman, which means ‘Water Is Life.’ Perhaps the most succinct point however, comes in the song Arawan from an album called Amassakoul-
“The world is in flight
Nobody cares about the peoples of the desert
Who are suffering from thirst
So what mysteries make the water flow so abundantly in their city
And even more so in their fields”
As I have been walking around and experimenting with these photos of water, taken in a place where it is an abundant resource, I have also thought of these words from Tinariwen. In parts of the Sahara there are deep underground aquifers that could provide some relief, but that would require considerable time and resources to develop. So the people of the Sahara like the Touaregs continue on as they always have, struggling in a beautiful, yet harsh landscape. On the other hand I am afforded the luxury of flavored water, swimming pools, and a hot shower. It is a harsh realization at times, and I felt conflicted in sharing this post for this reason-the beauty of water for me, the shortage of water for others. You can’t do much to change the situation half way around the world personally, but collectively we can at least be aware of the differences. At the end of the post below is a link to a few worldwide organizations working on these issues. I would urge you to support any of them if you can.
Perhaps no better example of this issue through Tinariwen’s eyes came with their song Tenere Taqhim Tossam, from the Tassili album. Featuring guests Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe from the band TV On The Radio the song states-
“The desert is hot, and its water hard to find. Water is life and soul.”
As noted in the liner notes, the sound at the end of the song is of the first rainfall in 5 years in the southeast corner of Algeria where the band was recording the album. Five years….. Aman Iman-Water Is Life.
Here is a link to some great organizations working on water issues around the world-http://www.goodnet.org/articles/1000
Arawan-Written By Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni
Tenere Taqhim Tossam-Written By Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, Eyadou Ag Leche, Kyp Malone and Babutunde Omoroga Adebimpe
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All Photographs By Robert P. Doyle
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