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Album review: Tamikrest “Chatma” (Folk Radio UK)

September 24, 2013

Tamikrest - ChatmaIn my review of Sidi Touré’s Alafia, I bemoaned in passing the lack of international recognition afforded to Malian women singers and, almost as if in response, the new album by Tamikrest landed on my desk. Hailing from Kidal, a city in the northeast of Mali, the band has been joined for this album by – yes, a high profile woman singer (Wonou Walet Sidati of Tinariwen) – and her outstanding performances here, both leading and alongside the other vocalist, Ousmane Ag Mossa, signal a new confidence within Tamikrest. As a result, Chatma bears all the hallmarks of a musical maturity way in excess of the band’s comparative youth.

Like many other artists from Mali, Tamikrest have found themselves, their families and their friends, profoundly affected by the political upheavals and conflict in Northern Mali, from growing up during the ‘March Revolution’ of 1991, the fallout from 2002’s insurgency in the Maghreb and the Tuareg rebellions of 1990 and 2012. All of this has left the individual musicians keenly aware of the plight of those caught up in armed conflict simply because they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – and invariably the worst casualties of war are women and girls.

Consequently, Tamikrest have called this record Chatma, which means “Sisters” in Tamasheq (the Tuareg dialect spoken by the group), as a mark of respect to “the courage of the Tuareg women, who have ensured both their children’s survival and the morals of their fathers and brothers” [source] and the themes of solidarity and moral indignation are infused throughout. As the lyrics of the opening track Tisnant an Chatma (The Suffering of my Sisters) say:

Who can estimate the suffering felt by the soul
of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting,
of one who sees her sisters exhausted from waiting between countries,
in deep distress and daily oppression?

Instead of letting themselves be torn apart by their lives’ events, the members of the band have found a sense of shared unity with each other and their communities and it’s implicit in the name Tamikrest. Meaning, roughly, “the knot”, “the junction” or “the coalition” it was chosen carefully by the band’s founders, as Ousmane Ag Mossa explains: “Each of us came from a different place, a different zone […] But we found each other and we had the same ideas, the same intentions. We were like a coalition”. From this alliance comes an inner strength and this shines through the music: tightly meshed and sinuously hypnotic, yet it’s often the spaces between the notes which speak loudest of all.

As for their sound, it seems likely that Tamikrest will have to fend off comparisons with Tinariwen, primarily because both bands have their roots in Touareg music and those shared influences are evident in both bands. But it would be a shame to write them off because of this; you only have to play Chatma back-to-back with Tinariwen’s latest (2011’s Tassili) to hear that Tamikrest have a clear style and sound of their own. Their influences are global in scope: elements of reggae, Western rock and folk musics are all thrown into the musical blender, but the end result is uniquely individual, true to their own culture and heritage. Chatma is possibly one of the most powerful and inspirational records to emerge from the conflict in Northern Mali to date.

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Originally posted at Folk Radio UK (24 September 2013)

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