Words: Dominic Valvona
Images: Shida Masataka 

Tamikrest   ‘Tamotaït’
(Glitterbeat Records)   LP/27th March 2020

It’s been well over seven years since Mali was last thrust into the world’s media spotlight; the Nomadic Tuareg’s, or as they would rather be called, the Kel Tamasheq, age-old cause to gain control of an autonomous region in the country’s northwest border was abruptly hijacked by a less than sympathetic branch of al-Qaeda. Declaring an independent state, known as the Azawad, in 2012 the Kel Tamasheq were soon compromised by their far more radical destructive partners: their ambitions reaching far further with an insurgency that threatened to destabilize the entire country. In their wake these extremists reduced many historical and revered sites to dust, and imposed the harshest forms of Islamist rule wherever they went: much to the distress of the Kel Tamasheq.

Though this initial insurgency was more or less all-over within a year, the Mali government was forced to seek military assistance from the former colonial overlords, France, who stymied but never quelled the insurgency and uprising. They did however restore some stability to the west of the country and centers of government. In the last few years Islamist terrorist campaigns run alongside ever bigger and more terrifying sporadic and haphazard attacks. Government advice in the UK describes these as indiscriminate, going on to advise avoiding ‘…all large gatherings, including music festivals, sporting events and any public marches or demonstrations. The Festival au Désert in Timbuktu was cancelled in January 2017 and has not taken place since due to security concerns. Festivals in other parts of the country, such as the Festival sur le Niger in Segou, are also vulnerable to attack. There may be a heightened risk of attack during election periods’.

It’s a multifaceted conflict with many dimensions, and has subsequently spread from Mali to the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Niger. This is all despite the presence of 4,500 French troops in the Sahel region (a colossal area between the Sahara, to the north, and the Sudanian Savanna, to the south) and a further 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force.

The spiritually restless Kel Tamasheq population, trapped between a hostile government, armed militias loyal to al-Qaeda and the encroaching threat posed by global corporations eager to commodify their desert home, remain stuck in the middle.

Still without a homeland, though liberated from their draconian partners, they’re once again left, as wanderers in their own lands, the unofficial guardians and custodians of the Saharan wilderness. For now only a dream, best realized and protested through music, the rock’ n ’roll Bedouins Tamikrest emerge from the barren landscape with a message of “power and resistance and hope”. Exiled from the southwestern Saharan crossroad town of Kidal, home but also the birthplace of this entrancing desert rock band, the Tamikrest troupe lives between the bordering regions, Algeria and also Paris. They paid homage to that strategically and spiritually important cultural trading town on their last album, back in 2017; an album that exuded both the sadness and suffering of the dispossessed people who cling to the Saharan hub that is Kidal, a town which has seen its fair share of fighting. Fought over, conquered and reconquered over time, it remains a symbolic home: This is after all the town that nurtured them and where it all began.

Supposedly back with the most powerful statement since the group’s 2013 Chatma album, the message of Tamikrest’s fifth studio album is once again one of hope and reflection: a message that is literally reflected in the translation of the album’s Tamotaït title. Not that you’d know it from the poetically earthy longing vocals, but songs like the opening mirage-y gritty blues boogie ‘Awnafin’ are powered by a message of ‘defiance’, whilst the group’s percussionist and singer Aghaly Ag Mohamedine declares a message of a “revolution in the Tamasheq culture”, when discussing the sirocco Future Days (at its most heavenly and liquid) buoyed narrated ‘As Sastnan Hidjan’. For something so revolutionary in rhetoric, and born out of such a tragic upheaval, the latest album is mostly an articulately electrified soulful affair that lingers and resonates between the sand dunes and the cosmic. Despite some rough and fuzzed guitar and a rocking beat, Tamikrest articulate a sighed, almost hushed form of gospel blues; especially spiritually diaphanous and enriched when a chorus of sweeter male and female vocalists weigh in, as they do on the down-and-sandy slide guitar and drum tabbing yearning ‘Amidinin Tad Adouniya’, and with the gossamer Balearics camel-motion ‘Amzagh’ – which sways close the backing music of the band’s label mate, the Saharan siren Aziza Brahim.

Arguably always open to embracing sounds and music from outside Mali, Tamikrest find an affinity with the perfumed alluring coos and gauzy longing of the Moroccan singer/actress Hindi Zahra. Connected not just geographically but through the group’s transcendent guitarist Paul Salvagnac, who played in Zahra’s band for several years, the acclaimed siren – known for singing in both English and the atavistic Berber languages – casts a suitable spell on the album track ‘Timtarin’. So congruous and at ease with the setup, apparently she recorded her vocals without any rehearsal, on the first take. Her turn on this atonal dream sends the band on a wind across the Sahara towards Persia.

Tamikrest also find kinship with the traditional music of Japan. Whilst on tour in the Far East, Ag Mohamedine was drawn to the spindly threaded and quivered sounds of the three-stringed, plectrum strummed ‘shamisen’ and five-string ‘tonkori’: an odd looking instrument said to have been shaped to resemble a woman’s body, the strings are openly strummed with one hand, whilst the other hand plucks out individual strings. Guesting on the album’s closer, ‘Tabsit’, Atsushi Sakta and Oki Kano lend an Oriental resonance to the group’s desert shimmered guitar tones in a union between two very different worlds. It’s another congruous fit, one that transcends both.

Remaining true to the sound that has so defined them, Tamikrest have also continued to expand sonically across their quintet of albums. Roots music taken on a voyage of discovery to a myriad of compass points, Tamotaït once more transforms the lingered traces of desert blues and rock’ n ’roll to produce a richly woven tapestry of fired-up protestation and hope.

Related posts from the Archives:

Tamikrest ‘Chatma’ 

Tamikrest ‘Kidal’ 

Terakaft ‘Alone’

Glitterbeat 5th Anniversary Special 

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Hi, my name is Dominic Valvona and I’m the Founder of the music/culture blog monolithcocktail.com For the last ten years I’ve featured and supported music, musicians and labels we love across genres from around the world that we think you’ll want to know about. No content on the site is paid for or sponsored and we only feature artists we have genuine respect for /love. If you enjoy our reviews (and we often write long, thoughtful ones), found a new artist you admire or if we have featured you or artists you represent and would like to buy us a coffee at https://ko-fi.com/monolithcocktail to say cheers for spreading the word, then that would be much appreciated.

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