How many blues lovers have wondered how this intriguing music of ours first gained its unique sound? As much as I tried, I could never see how the nuances of blues related to the
frenetic music of old tribal Africa, no matter how many documentaries and music
histories told me it did.

About ten years ago, I had a revelation.
I was watching The Chariots of Ancient Libya, a documentary by the excellent
Australian film maker, David Adams. In this documentary, Adams filmed local Libyan
tribesmen playing, on ancient instruments, a music that seemed remarkably similar
to blues. To me, this was the key to the highway, so to speak.

What I discovered, inspired
me to research the blues even further, ultimately ending up with the illustrated history, How
Blues Evolved.

Since I started on this blues quest, a growing body of academic
evidence has emerged to back up what I
heard on Adams’ film (these academic sources are detailed in the book). This evidence suggests the true origins of the blues lay in
the parts of Africa touched by Islam and you only have to hear for yourself the
traditional music of the Tuareg people of North Africa to appreciate its
uncanny correlation with some of the earliest recorded rural blues.

The Tuareg are not Arabs but Berbers, and known
as the Blue Men of the Desert, due to their indigo blue robes and wrap-around
headwear. This is nothing to do with how blues got its name, I believe, and is
purely coincidental.

Tuareg slave traders taking their captives across the Sahara.
Traditionally living between the Arabs of northern
Africa and the Negroid peoples of sub-Saharan Africa, Tuareg warriors had
traditionally hunted-down and traded in black slaves since Roman times. For 600
years, until the very end of the nineteenth century, the Tuareg were the undisputed
masters of North Africa’s slave trade, controlling and protecting their network
of north-west African trade routes across the Sahara, and guarding and
protecting the many slave markets in desert towns.

While they
also traded in gold, perfume, dates and spices, perhaps half of the Tuareg’s
trafficking was human, with slaves forced to walk hundreds of miles, fastened
in head-yokes,
to the old slave
warehouses of modern-day Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Benin, Ivory Coast, Ghana and
Sierra Leone.

   It’s not
difficult to imagine the wretched captive audiences of slaves dejectedly
listening to the hypnotic music emanating from the Tuareg camp fires through
the cold desert night. Just how much the songs of the Tuareg slave traders
influenced the music of the 645,000 African slaves transported to North
America no one can ever know.
But it is becoming increasing evident that such Tuareg music did influence the earliest sounds of the blues.

A modern twist to this tale is the
electric-guitar-driven-sound of the modern-day Tuareg band, Tinariwen, made up
of Tuareg musicians from the desert region of Mali. Formed in

Another old print of Tuareg slave hunters.

Tinariwen won the Best World Music Award at last year’s Grammys. Due to the nomadic
nature of their people, band members tend to be an inter-changing collective
rather than the same musicians.

While Tinariwen’s early influences were
Led Zeppelin, Dire Straits, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, etc, the Berber band members have always said categorically that they
never heard authentic American blues until they started touring internationally in 2001.