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Exclusive Interview with Mali's Tamikrest, the Heirs of the Desert
“We, sons of the desert / Who live in drought / This empty space / Where thirst and wind hold sway / Bare of shade and water / But full of liberty / It’s the country of antelopes / And nature’s beautiful beasts.”
The ‘Heirs of the Desert’ have spoken.
Tamikrest - meaning the knot - is a young Touareg band from Mali, produced by Chris Eckman, of Dirtmusic whom they met at the Festival au Desert in Timbuktu in 2008. This fortuitous encounter gave birth to their band, a strong friendship and for us, two studio albums.
Tamikrest’s sound is founded on the Tamashek music tradition “we must all recognize that we belong to a community and a culture, and that this culture is our strength in the eyes of others” the band says.
Their music is in the same vein of, but distinct from, that of Tinariwen, they own their very dynamics of loops of drums and ululations, of instrumental and vocal rings supporting solid guitar riffs on reverbs and hypnotising rhythms of basslines. All assembled they draw polyphonic compositions that bear the crown, lyrics in Tamashek, politically engaged, full of hopes, of truths, of love. Free.
“The Touareg want to live in freedom in their homeland and end this form of colonisation, which has prevailed for 50 years, in other words, for far too long.”
Tamikrest’s first album ‘Adagh’ came out in 2009 on the heels of which they set off for a tour taking them all over Europe. Their second album ‘Toumastin’ was released in late 2010 and just before they set off on their next adventure, Addis Tunes has caught up with them for a chat.
Who are the members of your band?
In Tamashek music you don`t have fixed structures as you have in more Western orientated bands. When we play live in our region, other musicians may come up and play with us. But of course, there is also a core band membership. Tamikrest`s founding members in 2006 are Ousmane, Aghaly, Cheikh and Mossa. We are still the band´s basic.
Who writes the texts and who composes the music or is it a shared process with no strict division between all your inputs?
The lyrics and the basic music is mostly written by Ousmane Ag Mossa. On our new album “Toumastin” are also two songs by Mahmud Ag Ahmouden, a new band member. The songs are worked out in a common process by all Tamikrest members. If it works with a song, it`s a Tamikrest song.
What instruments do you use? What are the traditional instruments typical to Tamashek music that you like to feature in your songs?
The Tamashek music has a very old tradition. But in early 2000, when the band Tinariwen came through and out of the Ishumar movement, it changed to a more modern sound with electric instruments. Tamikrests sound is based on this. We are playing electric guitar and bass, sometimes even a drumkit and we mix it with the typical female voice of Tuaregs and with traditional percussions.
Was using the electric guitar a natural move towards making music for you? The guitars you use have distinct sounds, perhaps what I hear is the way you thumb it, what type of guitars are they? Are they 5, 6 or 7 strings?
Yes it has been a natural move. Although I started, because of no alternatives then, with an acoustic guitar, but the sound I wanted to create is an electric sound. It`s our understanding of modern Tuareg sound. And the guitar players in Tamikrest play standard western guitars. The difference in sound comes from the special way of fingerpicking and sometimes a different tuning.
What other music and musicians do you listen to?
In our youth we have all been in the same school and we listened to old traditional music as well as to cassettes with modern music. With the cassettes came the music of Bob Marley, Dire Straits and Jimi Hendrix and many others. Meanwhile there are mp3 players around and we trade songs on this medium. We were in Europe last year for our first tour. There we had the chance to listen to Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Pink Floyd and other well known “superstars” from the Western world. Also our cooperation with the Australian/American/European band Dirtmusic had big influence on our musical taste and development.
Your music and texts are very much engaged, you describe life for Touaregs and speak of the aspirations for a free Touareg territory. How do you see your role as a musician and a speaker for your community? What is your wish for Touaregs in the future?
We love to play music. This is our profession. When I was young, I wanted to become a diplomat to help my people, but soon I recognized that there is no way to realize that dream. So we decided to spread the word with music. Our political situation and the problems we are talking about, are very old. Not much has changed in the past years and we hope that our music and the message will be heard worldwide. We hope that with our music the world will finally see, that our tradition, our way of life and in the end our self-concept as a nation is in danger and if we don`t change this very soon, everything will be lost. And it will be a loss for the world too.
Are you in Kidal now? How does the youth view their future there? The Touaregs have a very patient nature, what about hope?
Young people have the hope that our struggle will reach its goal for justice for our people. Our people are courageous and we never lose hope. We have no right to lose hope for our community. It is up to our youth to continue fighting for our seniors. By different means to preserve our culture and identity
I do not like to refer to the Kel Tamashek as Touaregs myself, as Touareg is a foreign description, does the term Touareg bother you, does it bother those around you?
When you go into the middle of the desert and you use the word Tuareg, nobody will understand you. We are the Kel Tamashek people who speak the tamashaq, the Tamashek language. The term Kel Tamashek describes the Touaregs in Mali. In Algeria, we use the term rather Imouhar. In Niger, Imajaghen.
Which one of your songs has your band enjoyed making most? Which one would you recommend to someone discovering Tamikrest?
The song we wrote with the greatest pleasure is “Ayitma” from our first album “Adagh”.
The one we recommend for discovering Tamikrest is “Aratan N Tinariwen” from “Toumastin”, our second album.
Are you touring at the moment and are you already thinking of your next album?
We were touring in Europe in November and December 2011. Our manager is already thinking and talking about our next album. But nothing is fixed yet. Probably we will go back to the studio this year.
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