Desert struggles make for purposeful rock and roll on Tamikrest's latest album of Saharan desert blues.
Tamikrest's newest album, Kidal, is named for the West African band's hometown, an oft-embattled commune in the vast deserts of northern Mali. Kidal has long been a cultural center of the region, and although it's home of uprisings and war, it's also a source of strength for the Tuareg people who live there and, at one point, claimed it as part of an independent state. As such, this album is a tribute to Kidal and its people. In welcoming us to Kidal, Tamikrest gives us the chance to hear the group at its strongest, free in a familiar setting. Roots are explored, current events are addressed, and Tamikrest’s members have a personal passion for every subject they approach -- in addition to a wide range of skills.
A massive boulder marks the road into Kidal, painted with the town’s name in both the Latin alphabet and the Tifinagh abjad. Stark and imposing in the arid landscape, it makes for a perfect visual representation of the music on Kidal, which begins with a sharp Saharan twang. From there, Kidal sees Tamikrest doing what they do best: exploring every style under the sun with expert technique. North African styles abound; for instance, the melancholic “Ehad Wad Nadorhan” evokes late nights in Algeria, while acoustic closer “Adad Osan Itibat” is as pure a desert blues track as there ever was.
Above all, though, Tamikrest plays what Tamikrest loves, and influences from outside their home continent are equally audible. The wistful introduction to “Tanakra” lands somewhere between “Dust in the Wind” and “California Dreamin’”, and “War Tila Eridaran” layers heavy chords over kicking reggae beats. Restless “Wainan Adobat” brings outlaw country to a whole new desert with the kind of credibility that comes from actually knowing what it’s like to have to be ready to fight the established order. Near the middle of the album, “Atwitas” is the last word in rock and roll, with kora lines glittering around a bluesy, Hendrix-esque guitar solo. It’s one of the album’s most electrifying moments.
Singer and lead guitarist Ousmane Ag Mossa notes that writing a tribute to the strength and history of Kidal could only have been done in Kidal. He’s absolutely right: Kidal paints such an authentic picture of life, suffering, and strength that it could only have been done by someone who knows and loves the area inside and out, like Mossa himself. Every facet of his vision rings in the heavy drumbeats, in his world-weary notes, and in the diversity and clarity of the many strings that make up each melody. Add to that some extra electronic effects (mostly echoes of different shapes and sizes) and the atmosphere is haunting. This is Kidal: rugged beauty, destruction and loss, and resilience.
Kidal doesn’t sound like a fight. There are such gentle moments mixed in with the bittersweet and so many steady rhythms that move each track forward. Mossa’s voice is weighty with feeling, yet not overtly aggressive. But Kidal is, in many ways, a direct action against injustice. It’s a show of patriotism, and, given the government-imposed ban on secular music only recently lifted in Mali, a potentially dangerous one. It's a potent act of defiance against oppression and violence, a renewal of tradition, and a vision for the future. It's country, rock, folk, reggae, and blues from a place that knows the value of musical freedom.
It's Kidal: heart, soul, and sand.