Kidal by Tamikrest

Release date: March 17, 2017
Label: Glitterbeat

Kidal is the fifth album by the Tuareg group Tamikrest and is named for the Malian city which serves as cultural centre, spiritual home and physical symbol of independence of the Tuareg people. In between occupation by Taleban forces and French military ‘liberation’ it briefly existed as a city of freedom and self determination for these much put upon Saharan nomads, and it was there in 1995, after rioting, that the band was formed. Created in the mould of local heroes Tinariwen, they share in the belief that guitars, not guns, can best further the cause of their people.

Younger than Tinariwen, they can be seen as a sort of Rolling Stones to their Howlin’ Wolf, quick to add modern Western elements, they have a proper, rock style drummer and Occasionally wear their less traditional influences more obviously. Their music, however is still unmistakably desert rock, with all the soul, beauty and melancholy that suggests.

‘Marwarniha Tartit’ opens things in familiar style, circular loping guitar riffs, deep restrained, almost chanted vocals of Ousmane Ag Mossa in the Tamasheq language and simple shuffling percussion. It’s wonderfully soothing, but perhaps a little misleading as many of the other tracks on the album are a little less typical of the genre. The single ‘Wainan Adobat’ is more upbeat; hand claps propelling the instrumental passages along, whilst beautiful combined vocals send the verses up into the sky.

It must be noted that Kidal is a guitar fans dream, there may only be two electric guitars at work, but along with the traditional stringed instruments Tamikrest build an incredibly rich, multi-stranded musical landscape, and the bass playing, not least on ‘Wainan Adobat’ is wonderfully, warmly, dextrous.’War Toyed’, on the other hand shows the band at their most animated, almost certainly a song of defiance, the bass locks down as guitars mesh and conflict, counterpoint and flash.

The standout track for me is the funereal and sultry ‘Atwitas’, which owes as much to Mark Lanegan or Calexico as any African music and leaves you squinting into the desert sun, although on which continent is uncertain. This is a song to slow the blood and swell the heart, the slide work by second guitarist Paul Salvagnac is eerily atmospheric and the solo is sublime. Fans of latter period Pink Floyd will hear this and swoon.

Robert Plant has long been admirer of this music and ‘Ehad Wad Nadorhan’ is like holding a mirror up to his song ‘Little Maggie’ – the influences of desert blues and English folk bleeding into each other, reconnecting on some ancient level. It’s a lightbulb moment, again displaying the universal reach of music. The similarities to English folk can be found elsewhere on the album too, particularly on the lovely ‘Adad Osan Itibat’ which feels like a sunny mix of country fayre and souk.

There is so much to enjoy on Kidal, so many deft and beautiful performances, that you cannot help but feel a solidarity with and respect for Tamikrest and all they stand for. Kidal is an album to treasure, and if you give it time and space in the quieter moments of your day it has the power to move you profoundly.

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