Music of the Sahara

I've been recently enjoying the "desert blues" of Saharan Africa.  When you think about the harsh climate and political history that peoples of this region have faced, it seems only natural that powerful and soulful music would emerge similarly to American blues.

This music combines guitars with traditional African instruments such as flutes and harps and finds structure around percussive rhythms that stay with you long after you shut off the stereo.  Although you probably won't understand a word of the lyrics, you get the strange sense that you know what they're singing about purely through their emotive tones.

The late Ali Farka Touré is the most well known artist and a great place to get started.  Rough Guides has also put out a desert blues compilation that explores a diversity of artists.

Other artists include:

Our online streaming music service, Contemporary World Music, also features these artists.  Use it to create your own playlist.  Explore and enjoy.


Written by Bobby on May 26, 2011


Tricia on May 30, 2011


I've traveled in the Sahara and first heard this music coming from the tape deck in our 4WD as we drove up and down and across the dunes. Very potent music. I think it was Tinariwen, a cassette made by one of the Tureg drivers, at a live gathering. Fabulous that you should bring this up!

james on May 31, 2011


I think it was NPR that turned me on to Ali Farka Toure a couple years ago. His record Savane is simply incredible. I didn't branch out into the genre much, but I will now that I'm reminded by your post. Thanks, Bobby.

Kevin on June 4, 2011


I saw Tinariwen in concert in Boulder in July 2010 - amazing concert, poorly attended. This band finds a groove and digs into into it with as much verve and suppleness as any "jam band". And without a traditional drum set - just two guys, each playing one drum powered the group. Don't miss them!

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