Anana, how does a Nigerien Tuareg end up in Brussels of all places?
Anana Harouna (vocals, guitar): "Well, I guess you might say love strikes in the strangest places! My ex-wife is Belgian. I had already visited Europe before I met her, but that was just as a tourist. In fact we met at a music festival in Niger. At first I intended to divide my time between Belgium and Niger, but when in 2007 the political situation in my country became unstable, I decided not to return there for the foreseeable future. In the meantime my three daughters were born in Belgium, so the country became a part of my identity. These days I'm a Belgian when I'm in Niger and a Nigerien when I'm in Belgium."

How deeply rooted in Tuareg culture is the music you guys play?
Anana Harouna: "The music you're referring to is a fairly recent development. It wasn't until the nineteen-eighties, when lots of young Tuareg men ended up exiled in Lybia and Algeria, that the electric guitar was introduced in Tuareg music. It were our brothers of Tinariwen who first started having some commercial success with their sound and in their slipstream numerous other bands followed."

Compared to 'Tin Hinane', which had more of a fusion vibe going, 'Tikounen' sounds a lot more rock oriented.
Anana Harouna: "We intentionally tried to give 'Tikounen' more of a rock vibe, inspired by bands like Led Zeppelin. I hope our sound will continue to evolve as that might attract a more diverse audience. In my opinion, the sturdy sound of the album also corresponds with the times; society has become very restless and violent and to counter that negativity, you need music that's even more powerful and energetic. Music is still an ideal medium to unite people. That being said, the album is also the result of a collaboration with Tunisian producer Soufian Ben Youssef, who's now also a member of the band. The first song we did together was 'Azawad'. I immediately liked his ideas and the way he worked and very soon we started thinking about doing an entire album together."

Another change in the lineup of the band came with the addition of Toulou Kiki.
Anana Harouna: "Toulou is my niece. We started working together after the release of 'Tin Hinane'. I think she has a great voice and don't forget, in Tuareg music culture the feminine presence holds some importance. Stronger even: women were at the forefront of Tuareg music culture, as they were the ones playing traditional instruments like the zar or the tinde while the men danced around them. It wasn't until the introduction of the electric guitar that Tuareg men also started playing music. Tin Hinan, whom we consider to our matriarch, was a woman as well, and in the band Toulou now represents that matriarchal side of Tuareg culture."

Your songs contain plenty messages and history, but as you sing in Tamasheq, how do you succeed in making western audiences understand what your music is about.
Anana Harouna: "That's true, but we always include translations of our lyrics in our albums. Apart from that, I believe the mystique or exoticism listeners get from hearing music sung in a language they can't understand, will inspire them to go in search of more information. This kind of cultural exchange is one of the reasons why I started playing music. In a similar vein, a couple of years ago I organized a festival called Nomad's Land, intended to introduce/present nomadic people/people from all over the world through concerts, debates and documentaries. I like meeting others and interchanging ideas, and that's what I try to accomplish with my music as well."

In conclusion, how would describe the current political situation of Niger's Tuareg population?
Anana Harouna: "In Niger the situation is more or less stable/has stabilized. In the last elections a number of Tuareg got elected, so the Tuareg struggle has changed from an armed resistance into a democratic process. There's even a Tuareg party now called MDR or Mouvement Démocratique pour le Renouveau, who've got the support of the majority of young Tuareg. That being said, we shouldn't forget in a lot of African nations, the whole democratization process is still a relatively new development. In the north of Mali the situation is a lot more complex, as in Azawad, the territory claimed by the Tuareg rebels, economical factors like petrol and uranium also play a key role. Apart from that there was also the influx of the Islamic fundamentalists of Ansar Dine who terrorized the entire north of the country. All in all this certainly hasn't made things any easier for the Tuareg living there. Let me be clear: to my knowledge the Tuareg in Mali aren't striving for independence; all they really want is a federal state with sufficient regional autonomy, the same system that exists over here in Belgium or in Switzerland. This conflict has now been going on for many years, but we remain hopeful the international community will finally find a solution."