In 1980, Colonel Ghadaffi put out a decree inviting all young Touareg men, who were living illegally in Libya, to come and receive a full military training at a designated camp in the southern desert. It was an opportunistic move. The Touareg had long held a reputation as brilliant bushmen and desert fighters. Ghadaffi dreamed of forming a Saharan regiment, made of the best young Touareg fighters, to further his territorial ambitions in Chad, Niger and elsewhere.
Seeing it as a heaven-sent chance to learn how to be soldiers and take back their homeland by force, Ibrahim and most of his friends answered the call immediately. Their training was very tough, and lasted only nine months. Four years later, in 1985, they were invited back into a new camp near Tripoli. This time it was run by the leaders of the Touareg rebel movement, the MPA (Mouvement Populaire de l’Azawad). Ibrahim, Inteyeden, Diarra and Hassan were joined by a whole new group of aspiring musicians, including Keddou Ag Ossade aka ‘Hiwaj’, Mohammed Ag Itlale aka ‘Japonais’, Sweiloum, Abouhadid and the young Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni. They formed a collective and built their own make-shift rehearsal studios, equipping it with basic gear bought with the money from a communal chest into which all recruits paid contributions. Their job was to write songs about the rebellion, about the aspirations of the Touareg for political freedom, for education and development, and then to record these songs without payment for whoever turned up at their door with an empty cassette. It was a propaganda machine for a people without any other forms of media whatsoever. The cassettes were taken back to camps and villages throughout the Sahara, copied, and then copied again and again and again. It was a cassette-to-cassette grapevine and the sound quality was as atrocious as the message was powerful.
Ibrahim, Inteyeden, Japonais, Diarra, Hassan and their friends never saw themselves as one-dimensional propagandists however. They were musicians and poets. Their songs spoke of deep personal struggles and of their love of their desert home, as much as they raised the flag for the rebel movement. In 1989, frustrated by the lack of progress and by broken promises, the members of Tinariwen escaped from the Libyan camp and headed south into Mali. Ibrahim found himself back in Tessalit, the village of his birth, for the first time in 26 years. And then, in June 1990, the rebellion began.