Interview: Tamikrest (May 2017)

Tamikrest always play pretty cool, eclectic music, with intricate layers of artistry. They blend rock and native music, native that is to West Africa. Their most recent album Kidal (released in March by Glitterbeat) is as cool as their music has ever been: a unique blend of poetry and instrumentals rocking out to kinetic liberty.

Their music is also political. They stand up for the rights of their people, the Kel Tamashek, who are Tuareg people, and their battle for independence. That’s the issue with carving nations (Mali) out of colonies: groups are adjoined into a new space, a utopia for some, just normal for others, and finally dystopia for those who hate this new space.

Until the advent of capitalism, with its tentacles gripping states and the culture of nations, poets were all important to the lives of nations, for better or for worse. Poetry was meant to be more than jargon and to culture humanity sensibility. With Tamikrest’s Kidal, we hear music culturing sensibility, harvesting both warriors and a settlement, while moving all listeners towards both concern and beauty.

Rhythm Passport: What is rock and roll to you personally?

Cheikh Ag Tiglia: For me, it’s a kind of music, like blues, reggae … My friends tell me it’s (a form of) rebellion music too, but before that, I did not know.

Rhythm Passport: Why play rock and roll?

Cheikh Ag Tiglia: For me, I do not know much about rock n roll. But our musical style comes from traditional music, the one played by women in the past. In the 80s, there was this revolution with guitars, and it is our rock. There is continuity in rhythms, modes, certain themes (nostalgia), but also a real revolution in sonorities and the social aspect of songs. Of course, the shepherds or the caravaners played similar music, but our rhythms are the rhythms that women played. And calling for revolution and rebellion against the Malian state, obviously, it was a great revolution in Tamashek music.

Rhythm Passport: Why do dance in the desert?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: Our music, on everything we do now, is sending a revolutionary message about the daily life of our Kel Tamashek people. This is our first objective with this music. But that does not exclude the fact that we can also dance to it.

In Tinzawatene or Kidal, there were small concert halls (Youth Houses), badly equipped, but which allowed the groups to play. It has been the same in Tamanrasset since the 90s. But many concerts are done (in private). People like Tinariwen or Abdallah Oumadougou played a lot like that. In recent years, some groups have also played for weddings. And then in the years after 2000, there was the beginning of the festivals, under the impulse of Philippe Brix and the French group Lo’Jo. All these events are also dance opportunities.

Rhythm Passport: Dancing rock and roll in the desert, is it a revolution?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: Before the guitars, there was already the traditional dance that the men danced when the women were playing. Since our music is based on the same rhythms, the dance in our country has not changed much. It remained very similar to what used to be.

Rhythm Passport: Who writes the lyrics of your music?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: Tamikrest is a band. For the writing, but also the composition in a general way, even if they were made by one member, there are always the influences from each one of us. Through our discussions, our exchanges, each participates more or less.

Rhythm Passport: Your lyrics: are they poetry inspired by rock and roll, inspired by the desert, or both?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: I do not know what rock n roll poetry means. But on the other hand, I know very well what the “Tamikrest poetry” means. It is a poetry based on the demands of our people, the right of peoples to self-determination, on the suffering that has endured for half a century (since the post-colonial territorial division). So perhaps our poetry is both a desert poetry (we are children of the dunes and arid mountains of the Adagh) and a form of rock poetry, for it also calls for rebellion against injustice and corruption and the marginalisation of the Kel Tamasheks.

Rhythm Passport: Does the desert like rhythms, melodies or the harmonies?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: All three complement each other. One does not make sense without the others. There is something important in Tamashek music (which differentiates it a lot from the other music of our neighbours); it is the rhythmic guitar, which gives both harmony and rhythm. That’s what brings us closer to rock. And the notes, of course, that are (rock and tamashek) those of the blues.

Rhythm Passport: What about the future of rock and roll in the desert?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: The future of rock in the desert depends mainly on the people of the desert. If they are constantly in difficulties, there will not be much future.

Rhythm Passport: What do you want for the desert?

Ousmane Ag Mossa: To go back to 1900. Okay, it’s going back to the camel and leaving the 4 x 4, leaving electricity, all those things that make life easier (but we have lived there for millennia so we can adapt). But it would also mean leaving behind the Kalashnikovs, the mines, the bombs, all these devices of death (far more barbaric than the sabre and the shield). Above all, to return to this time would be to return to that immense territory where freedom was queen. We were then a people full of sovereignty.