The music of Mali became familiar to American audiences initially through the collaborations of the late Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder. Tinariwen are a whole other deal. Formed by members of the Tuareg people from the country’s northern Sahara region, the band mines much of the same territory: hypnotic grooves and electric guitar with a clear reference to American blues, though with hymnal-like group vocals all their own. Born in exile by musicians living in Libya, the band was brought together by Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, himself the son of a Tuareg rebel who had been executed after a 1963 uprising. Now Mali is again embroiled in violence, and the Tuareg people have declared their independence. Tinariwen, meanwhile, last played Boston in November 2011 in a World Music/CrashArts show. Clearly our readers have not forgotten.
Runners-up: Altan, Johnny Clegg, Touré-Raichel Collective