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Tamikrest's 'Kidal' Is a Tuareg Blues Love Letter to Their Northern Malian Hometown

Mali’s socio-politically charged Tamikrest are back with their fourth studio album, a resilient & somber LP devoted to the band’s hometown.

Mali’s socio-politically charged seven-piece Tamikrest are back with their fourth studio album, a resilient yet somber record devoted to the band’s hometown of Kidal.


First inspired by the revolutionary tunes of musician-militants Tinariwen, the band have developed a distinct style since forming in 2006.

Representing a new generation of Tuareg nomads in an increasingly corporatized world, primary songwriter and bandleader Ousmane Ag Mossa reflects on similar themes of placeless-ness, nostalgia and indignation, having come of age during a five-year Malian civil war in the early 90s.

Much like Tamikrest’s previous records, Kidal marries Western roots rock with their own tradition of Saharan folk. There are subtle nods to country, like on the languid guitar licks of “Atwitas,” along with heavier, hard rock-inspired jams that recall the band’s love for British icons Pink Floyd and Mark Knopfler. But it’s mostly the blues that shapes their sound.

Album opener “Mawarniha Tartit” is a slow-burning number that employs the easy going grit of a standard blues progression to evoke resistance. A like-minded incantatory groove is established on Kidal’s third track, “Manhouy Inerizhan,” where themes of peace and composure are translated as power.

The lack of government presence, as well as mounting tensions between rival Tuareg clans and violent Islamist militants, have made desert towns like Kidal a site of political anxiety and social unrest. It’s this turmoil that’s inspired Tamikrest’s fourth album, a resistant solidarity that makes itself known in their roiling grooves (“Ehad Wad Nadorhan”) and stirring call-and-response choruses (“Wainan Adobat”).

The album’s most resoundingly beautiful song disrupts the record’s upbeat and masterful flow with a brief moment of introspection and rumination. “Tanakra,” one of two acoustic offerings on Kidal, is a poignantly spare song that conjures the stillness and silence of a moonlit Sahara.

Two distinct guitar lines meld melodies around a sole vocalist’s haunted musings, weaving and repeating like the infinite drift of a Möbius strip. There, in those arresting three minutes, Tamikrest and the Tuareg people find solace.

Music

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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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