What does Etran Finatawa mean?
It translates into English as ‘Stars Of Tradition’. It means that we are keepers of the traditions for both the Tuareg and Wodaabe tribes. We ensure that, while all around changes, we try our hardest to remember our culture. There are five of us in the group and we are all nomads.
Could you explain a little about the Tuareg and Wodaabe people?
I am a Tuareg. Both peoples are nomadic and live in the desert with their animals. We love freedom, we love nature and we are very attached to our cultures and way of life. We believe we look after ourselves very well and we keep our traditions.
Are both peoples still nomadic?
There are still many nomadic groups in Africa who still tend animals and hold on to the traditional way of life. However, for many this is changing due to economic and climactic factors. Many have now had to move to big towns to maintain their families.
I myself live in a big town with my family and my children – they go to school there. But I, like many of my tribe’s people, am always longing to go back to the desert as that’s where my real home and roots are.
How did the group form?
We all met at the 2004 Festival Au Desert in Mali. We all played individually, but came together to form the band then. Our first trip together was in 2005 in Morocco and we have subsequently played all over the world, including trips to Europe and Australasia.
Etran Finatawa’s music has been dubbed ‘desert blues’. Do you see this music as blues music in the western sense?
We all play the blues! But our music is traditional and it is from the heart. We don’t know what other people call it, but they listen to our music and tell us that’s what it is. The sound is attached to the desert – it comes from the air and the sky. It’s all about freedom. It’s like a journey when you listen to it. When you hear it, you are in the desert!
Your music has become very popular internationally in recent years. Why do you think this is?
I honestly don’t know. Maybe it’s because the Tuareg and Wodaabe keep their culture and are proud of it, and so people who hear our music respect this and are fascinated by it. We try to preserve our clothes, our food, our music and our way of life. You must always remember where you come from. Our culture is very ancient.
How did you become involved with the Womad festivals?
Our manager was in touch with them and we played at Womad UK in 2006 and then toured to Womad Australia, Womad New Zealand and Womad Singapore in 2007. I liked Australia the best – it’s my favourite country outside of Africa. Until, of course, I visit the UAE! We are very excited about coming to Abu Dhabi. We share a history and I feel there is a connection between our people.
Etran Finatawa play Womad Stage North, April 24 and 25, in Abu Dhabi Corniche.