Music

Malian Desert Rockers Tamikrest Advocate for Unity and Diversity on 'Tamotaït'

Photo: Courtesy of Glitterbeat via Bandcamp

Tamikrest's Tamotaït adds a welcome lyrical side to their brand of Saharan desert rock. The group advocate for both unity and diversity in wonderfully dulcet tones.

Tamotaït
Tamikrest

Glitterbeat

Kel Tamasheq band Tamikrest have always leaned toward the lyrical. Not that they're not all-in on rock and roll, in their own way - some of the guitar solos on 2017's Kidal still give me the best chills - but many of their finest moments come from subtleties rather than electric bombast. New album Tamotaït is, perhaps, the culmination of such skills. Continuing to stand for justice and a better society, especially on behalf of the Kel Tamasheq people, their music here has sonic overtones of hope, resilience, and reflection - and, as always, lyrics that call for a future in which the Kel Tamasheq have their own land to call home.

Many of the album's standout tracks are ones that exemplify the group's more delicate side, especially those on which the band collaborates with other artists. "Timtarin" features the mesmerizing voice of Moroccan artist Hindi Zahra, whose eventual declaration that "We are all falling stars / All rising suns" encapsulates the cosmic perspective that feels particularly present throughout Tamotaït. On "Tihoussay" and closing track "Tabsit", the strings of Japanese instruments tonkori and shamisen, courtesy of Oki Dub Ainu Band's Oki Kano and Atsushi Sakta, respectively, waft across the soundscape, a cooling breeze over the electric heat of the group's Sahara-borne blues.

Even on the somberly resolute "Azawad", a song given the Kel Tamasheq name for northern Mali -- between 2012 and 2013, Kel Tamasheq liberation fighters even drove the Malian Army from the region and declared Azawad independent -- there is a softer warmth as a chorus of voices joins leader Ousmane Ag Mossa in a final chorus.

And yes, Tamikrest still know how to go hard, though they temper it well. The Tinariwen influence the group cites as critical to their sound is still present, especially on rolling opener "Awnafin". In general, though, their approach is a brighter, bolder one than many of their trailblazing predecessors. While fuzz is still a mainstay of the guitar lines that cycle through each track, more upbeat moments come in the brief, blazing solo on "Amidin Tad Adouniya" and the climactic lines of driving outlaw country track "Anha Achal Wad Namda". For as much as the band owes to its musical and cultural forefathers, today and tomorrow are what concern them, and their music reflects this philosophical direction with constant, active forward motion.

Music in the category of Saharan blues has occupied a certain upper echelon of coolness since Tinariwen first broke into the mainstream global consciousness with The Radio Tisdas Sessions, Amassakoul, and Aman Iman in the 2000s. Tamikrest's body of work is an excellent illustration as to why that is: the substance and soul, the meaning, the skill, the familiarity of rock and roll meshed with the distinct vocal timbres and melodic lines that have since become iconic of Kel Tamasheq life. With Tamotaït, Tamikrest builds outward, taking the solid foundation they and fellow groups have laid over the last two decades and making even more felicitous connections between their extant sounds and those around the world.

That does nothing to undermine the fact that Tamikrest -- whose name translates both to "alliance" and "the future" -- speaks to needs and causes specific to the Kel Tamasheq people. Instead, it takes these messages and reaches out to an even broader community of performers and listeners, advocating for both unity and diversity in wonderfully dulcet tones.

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