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LISTEN: New Tamikrest
Richie Troughton , March 16th, 2017 16:38

Tuareg rockers Tamkirest share exclusive stream of new track ahead of the release of new album Kidal, as Ousmane Ag Mossa explains how the group “carry the voice of our people” with their music. Homepage photo courtesy of Sebastien Rieussec

Longtime tQ favourites Tamikrest return this month with new album Kidal, and above we have an exclusive preview with the track 'Ehad Wad Nadorhan'.

Kidal is the Tuareg group’s fourth studio album and their first since 2013’s Chatma and sees them continue to expand on their rich vein of defiant assouf music, or desert blues. The Kidal desert region in north eastern Mali has been a “cradle” for many uprisings in recent history. In a statement released with Kidal the group explained: “This album evokes all the suffering and manipulations our tormented people are victims of; caught in pincers from all sides.”

'Ehad Wad Nadorhan' translates as 'That Night' and the track revolves around a cyclical build up of rhythms colliding brightly with wandering sundazed guitar lines reflecting the desert. Frontman Ousmane Ag Mossa sings in Kel Tamashek of an "inaccessible desire... Forcing my mind to have peace where I stand, Pushing him towards illusions that it continuously declines."

In addition to guitar driven songs the album also includes traditional Malian instruments, like the ngoni, melding their contemporary sound with echoes of folk music from the past, as can be heard on ‘Wainan Adobat’ (previously heard on The Quietus here).

We caught up with Tamikrest vocalist and guitarist Ousmane Ag Mossa to tell us more about the making of the new record.

It has been a while since we heard new songs from the group after Chatma came out in 2013. What has been going on during that period?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: Since the release of our first album Adagh, we have toured extensively in Europe, Africa and then in the USA. It is not always simple and inspiring to compose on the road or between plane journeys and tours. So I wanted to take the time to compose and work on the arrangements. But the situation [in Mali] had really worsened since 2012. And then to speak of a situation, that of the Tamashek people, in this case, we must live it, not be far off and have news from friends, family or Facebook. So we really wanted to be in the desert with our people, to write the new songs. I think that's how we can talk a little bit about the Kel Tamasheks and try to be useful to our people.

With Cheikh Ag Tiglia (bass player), we made several trips and spent months in Tinzaouaten, our village, on the Algerian-Malian border where we composed the foundations for the songs. Then when we returned to Tamanrasset (Algeria), we worked over the internet with Paul Salvagnac (guitarist) and the rhythm section, who live in France.

Since your first album Adagh in 2010 your homeland and people have seen a lot of troubled times, what impact has this had on the members of the group, the direction of your music and where are you now?

OAM: Since 2010, geopolitical events have made the life of the Kel Tamasheks even more disturbing than it was. Many are still in exile. And for Tamikrest too. Already, we had to leave Kidal (North Mali), where we had our rehearsal room and musical equipment. Geographically, we scattered. Some of the group have gone to live (although, as nomads, we are always called to move) in Tamanrasset, others are in the bush, others to France. At the level of organisation, things have changed a lot. But I do not know if it had an influence on our music which continues to be made on the same basis. It is more the meeting of new musicians and new music that has allowed us to evolve.

Chatma (sisters) was dedicated the "courage of the Tuaregs". What is the significance of the new album title, Kidal?

OAM: Kidal, for us, is the capital of the Kel Tamasheks of this part of the Sahara. It is therefore an extremely charged symbol. A symbol of our freedom, it is therefore a focus. But it is also a symbol of the conflicts that our people have experienced since 1963 (the date of the first Tamashek rebellion and the very violent repression that followed) and the internal disagreements of our people.

Kidal is located within the Adagh desert in the north-east of Mali - what does this region mean to you? Does this choice of title reflect that you are exploring more deeply what is going on around you?

OAM: The desert, the Adagh, is quite simple: it represents everything for us. We were born there, it is our native land, our paradise on earth. The nomads live in the desert. It's our home, simply. The house of our fathers and hopefully our children. We never go away (except for tours). That is why I feel that we have always talked about what is happening to our brothers and sisters.

What changes have you seen recently in Mali that have challenged the traditional way of life for the Tuareg people and how is this addressed on the new album? What are your hopes for the future?

OAM: The violence that has invaded the desert, the various trafficking (drugs, weapons...), the kidnapping industry, concessions to multinationals (such as uranium to French nuclear company Areva in Niger) and especially war, is what is currently threatening the traditional way of life. The little people live with great insecurities. Climate and environmental insecurity, but that, we have known how to manage for centuries. But physical insecurity due to war also leads to food insecurity (falling trade, supply, etc). The conditions of life are catastrophic for all these people.

I try to talk to the community in the general sense, saying to look for what is common. That we must unite together. It is time to move beyond our different blocs and divisions. It's urgent. We are disappearing... I also criticise the leadership of some, who do not look at their community but are only interested in a car or the money that comes with a position.

How does the music reflect what is around you and what does the desert mean to you?

OAM: As I said earlier, the desert is really everything for us. I think our music reflects this and it reflects what we are living through, because it pervades and inhabits us. And it reflects a part of Tuareg lives, because we live the same thing. We do not live like stars in large sumptuous villas. In my neighborhood, some people do not even know that I am a musician, that I go to tour around the world. Simply, I am Ousmane, the son of Mossa, the one who lives in the house, down there at the end of the street.

When writing, how do you get closer to the atmosphere, places and people you are singing about?

OAM: I look, I listen and I write about what is around me. Again, I live among my people. I am not an exile singing for a lost country. Yes, I left Kidal, but I go back regularly. And Tamanrasset is not an exile. Our desert is there and it has always been a Tamashek city. So by living in my community, I can talk about it and express its fears, its doubts, its sufferings. They are mine too.

How do you see your music connecting to traditional styles, while evolving your own sound?

OAM: Our music has always been connected to the traditional tamashek music, by its rhythms, by the modes on which the melodies are based. Through the strength of its roots, our music can bind to many others without losing its essence.

‘Wainan Adobat’ translates to ‘Those Who Think They Can,’ - who does the song refer to and what is the message of the lyrics?

OAM: ‘Wainan Adobat’ refers generally to the policies of many people and States. Those policies whose main purpose is to prevent a people from getting what they want most. Here we can think of freedom, the right to self-determination, the right of a community to manage its own destiny. The song also speaks of the politicians who implement these policies. If the words are not explicit, they refer of course to the situation known by the Kel Tamasheks.

In recent years, assouf music has become known and played by countless bands, many of whom, like yourselves, have taken their music from around the world. What does it mean for you to be part of this movement and to spread the message of Tuareg people to the outside world, who may not be aware of what is happening?

OAM: We are very pleased that there are now many bands from the Kel Tamasheks. This is something that was hardly conceivable 20 years ago. In fact, it also imposes a responsibility on us. In any case, that's what we think about it in Tamikrest. We are not just artists. We also have to be ambassadors. But I consider myself a committed artist and not a politician or a movement leader.

Art is a vector, the artist the instrument of this vector. We must therefore use this vehicle to carry the voice of our people, which no one usually sees or hears. When are we talking about the desert in the international media? When there is an abduction, hostage-taking or war. It is not very often. But when are we talking about the people who inhabit this desert? Never. As for talking about the causes of the disarray that has struck our people for more than 60 years, neither have they [discussed this]. Yet, there lies part of the solution to many current conflicts.

Tamikrest tour the UK in May at the below dates.

7th - CCA (Centre for Contemporary Arts), Glasgow
8th - Nell's Jazz and Blues, London
9th - Cafe OTO, London

Kidal is released on March 17 via Glitterbeat. For details of Tamikrest’s UK tour in May, click here