The Tuareg band Tamikrest hails from the parched plains of the Sahara. They are the latest in an illustrious line of Malian musicians to make it onto the world music charts and draw attention to their people’s plight.
Dressed in the long robes and draping turbans traditional to Tuareg nomads, the Tamikrest band members sway slowly on stage as they start playing their hypnotic blend of traditional percussion, drone-like vocals and twangy blues guitars.
They open their concert in Karlsruhe, Germany, with the first song from their latest album, “Chatma,” which was released in the latter half of 2013. Chatma means ‘sisters’ in the Tamashek language spoken by the Tuareg of northern Mali. The album is dedicated to the Tuareg women.
Ousmane Ag Mossa, who also sings and plays guitar in the band, composed the songs on the album, Tamikrest’s third.
“The album is about many things but in particular about the suffering of women,” Mossa says backstage before the concert. He sees women as bearing the brunt of the poverty, marginalization and conflicts which have affected the Tuareg in the past decades.
The women are also suffering under attempts to impose a hard-line version of Islam on the Tuareg. “A certain group wants to change our own way of life. They are insisting that women have to behave differently, that they shouldn’t leave the house,” says Mossa, referring to the fundamentalist Muslim movement that hijacked a Tuareg uprising against the Malian government and took control of large swathes of Mali in 2012.
“We won’t accept this,” Mossa says in a soft, considered French. “We have a liberal Islam and the kind of oppression of women that you find in certain Arabic countries isn’t our way.”
In fact, oppression, suffering, pain, war and hardship are continuing themes in Mossa’s lyrics. After all, the 28-year old grew up in the Kidal region of northeastern Mali, which has been battered by conflict and rebellion since Malian independence from the French in 1960.
Dressed in black stovepipe jeans, a faded black jacket and cowboy boots, he views his music and lyrics as another “way of supporting the Tuareg cause.”
“We don’t have journalists who speak about our matters, the national media ignore us and others aren’t interested in us. When people sing our songs or the songs of the Tuareg band Tinariwen, they aren’t just singing, they are telling our stories.”
His brow furrows as he talks about why he chooses to write Tamikrest’s songs in the obscure Tamashek language of the Tuareg instead of French.
“We don’t have archives preserving the past and as time passes, many things disappear, such as our poems, our language, our traditions.”
The music of Tamikrest, he says, could help preserve words, poems and traditions for future generations.
It was in school that Mossa and his friends discovered the cassettes of Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, the iconic founder of Tinariwen, and were inspired to start playing for themselves. As well as the obvious influences of Tinariwen, Tamikrest’s sound also incorporate elements of reggae, Western rock and folk music; after all, they also listened to Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Dire Straights and Bob Marley in their youth.
Tamikrest officially formed in 2006 and built up a local following in Kidal, the capital of the far northeast of Mali. Two years later, they scraped together enough money to travel across Mali to the legendary “Festival in the Desert” near Timbuktu.
As luck would have it, at the festival Tamikrest camped opposite the US-Australian band Dirtmusic, who were so taken with Tamikrest’s sound that they later invited them to Bamako and helped them produce their first record. This led to a European tour and then another. Tamikrest are now back in Europe for 33 concerts.
Although he currently moves between Mali, Algeria and Europe, Mossa says that regardless of where he is, his heart and his music will always be dedicated to fighting for the rights of his people.