A brilliant Saharan ray of Tuareg music and ambiance

The New Arab Meets: Tuareg nomadic group, Tamikrest. Following in the esteemed footsteps of famous Tuareg bands past, Tamikrest have since established themselves as stalwarts of the desert blues style, reflecting their Saharan essence.

“A bit of blues, with a bit of rock”, and the Tamasheq [Tuareg] essence, “it’s our style of music”, explains the singer of TamikrestOusmane Ag Mossa.

Tamikrest is basically a Tuareg group. It was formed in the Kidal region of northern Mali in 2007, but with members from Mali, Algeria and France.

The band’s desert rock music has its roots in Ishumar rock or Tuareg blues but borrows from other musical genres influenced by various cultures.

The Tuaregs or Kel Tamasheq (those who speak Tamasheq), as they prefer to be called, center the guitar in the heart of their modern music. The musicians adapted the traditional Tuareg notes and melodies to the guitar.

“While the Arabic and Tamasheq cultures are similar, the music has some differences, as with Tuareg music, the main instrument is the electric guitar while Arabic music is based on Oud”

A knot, a connection, a junction or a coalition – all these words can mean Tamikrest in Tuareg or tamasheq language, a language that is not widely spoken or recognized, and that only ethnic Berber speaks (along with other Amazigh languages).

With “homemade guitars”, Ousmane had learned to play. From there, the band progressed to produce five studio albums, one live album and 25 original compositions.

While touring Algeria, Ousmane from Tamikrest talks about his itinerary, explaining that he will be touring for a while as the band has scheduled around 30 concerts ending in July this year. The first concert in Europe is planned in Mertola, Portugal, on May 20 and the second in Strasbourg on May 24.

“Europe is different from any other place, it offers opportunities and support for artists,” says Ousmane, adding that there are a huge number of festivals every year where musicians can play.

In an unintended generalization he says that “Europe is not like Africa, because while there is an audience for our music, African countries do not invest heavily in cultural events so music concerts are generally rare there.

In addition to European countries, Ousmane has played in Kazakhstan, Turkey, Korea, the United States, Canada and Japan, but not yet in a Middle Eastern country.

From East to West, a mixture of melodies

Discuss Tuareg music without touching the influence of the famous Tuareg group Tinariwen is almost out of the question. Tinariwen were considered one of the first Tuareg bands to introduce the desert blues style and receive international recognition.

The group’s musical style and political message influenced many Tuareg musicians who were proud of this position and of having rubbed shoulders with its members.

“Understanding the complex history of the Tuaregs is essential to understand their love for the Sahara and their identity”

Ousmane tells the story of his childhood where he often listened to Tinariwen and tried to imitate the band’s style and play their songs. “Tinariwen was a big influence on my music,” he says, adding, “I was also influenced by other musical genres and bands, such as blues and Pink Floyd.”

He says he is influenced to produce his original music by all the different melodies.

True to his word, the band’s latest album Tamotait meaning hope for positive change in the Tuareg language, is a musical fusion encompassing Japanese orchestrations and English lyrics sung by Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra.

If the Tuaregs and more generally the Berbers rub shoulders with the Arabs, their musical styles are different. “While the Arab and Tamasheq cultures are similar, the music has some differences. As for Tuareg music, the main instrument is the electric guitar while Arabic music is based on the oud.

He goes on to explain how different instruments give different feelings, and for him Tuareg music gives the listener a blues and rock feeling because of the electric riffs.

Ousmane confirms that he listens to Lebanese, Syrian, Saudi, Jordanian and Yemeni artists, although an opportunity for cooperation has not yet arisen.

Tamikrest is basically a Tuareg group [Getty]

Azawad: State, identity and fragmentation

Most Tuareg musicians, including Ousmane, speak openly about Azawad, the aspiring state for the Tuaregs that emerged when a secular rebel group declared independence from northern Mali in April 2012.

The short-lived state quickly collapsed and the rebels signed a peace accord with the Malian government in 2015, brokered by Algeria.

Ousmane is from Kidal, formerly the capital of Azawad. He explains that “Historically, the Tuaregs inhabited the entire Sahara region, but colonial France divided it and created nation-states forging an artificial link between the different ethnicities of this region”.

He quips that he does not intend to give a history lesson but, for him, “understanding the complex history of the Tuaregs is essential to understanding their love for the Sahara and their identity.” Therefore, Tamikrest’s message through their music is to make Tuareg culture and poetry accessible to everyone.

“Although based in Algeria, I am a nomadic artist, I travel a lot and since 2014 I always come back to Kidal”, he says, but retorts that “it’s true, there were times when I didn’t not visited, but those were the times when there was Al-Qaeda.

Ag Mossa’s aspiration for a Tuareg state is clear. He says that the fact that the Tuaregs do not have an independent state is an issue he has dwelled on, and for him, he sees no geopolitical obstacle there.

“For many internal and external actors, they see the Sahara as a place of exploration for uranium and oil, for me it is the land where we belong.” He concludes that he has “a lot of love for the Sahara”.

Azawad and the Tuareg identity and cause remain at the forefront of Tamikrest and Tuareg music.

People should try “to understand the cause and continue the conversation about Tuareg identity”, concludes Ag Mossa.

Aman Al Bezreh is a trilingual journalist, media training consultant at OpenDemocracy and security analyst for West Africa and the Sahel.

Follow her on Twitter: @AmanBezreh

About Wesley V. Finley

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