After Tinariwen earned a seal of approval from Led Zep’s Robert Plant, the hypnotic blues-rock of North Africa’s dispossessed yet eternally defiant Tuareg people – or as they prefer, Kel Tamasheq – piqued the world’s curiosity. A standout act in the wave of bands followed is Tamikrest, operating out of Mali and led by singer, guitarist and songwriter Ousmane Ag Mossa. A decade after their debut, Adagh, Tamikrest’s fifth studio effort announces not only where they’re from, with its allusions to resistance and exile (as well as hope for the better, the meaning of the album’s title). It also points to where their path has led them – and where the arid Saharan groove can go next.
Worldwide tours and high-end European production have put a polish on Tamikrest’s sound. The basics are there – the rattling percussion, euphoric group chants, and sharp, radiant riffs – but the tracks on Tamotaït are lighter, richer and more lustrous than, say, the sulfurous blaze of Mdou Moctar or the raw, sparse ache of the godfathers, Tinariwen. Beware of the mellower moments, though, storm clouds can fill Tamikrest’s sunny skies quickly enough.
The next stage for the Tuareg music movement is intersections with outside styles, or so Tamotaït might suggest. The mesmerizing “Timtarin”, a soft breeze that builds into a sandstorm, finds Ag Mossa in a duet with celebrated Moroccan singer Hindi Zahra. More intriguing still is the sedate closing track “Tabsit,” on which Ag Mossa indulges his acquired fascination for Japanese stringed instruments – the shamisen and tonkori of guests Atsushi Sakta and Oki Kano interact marvelously with his guitar and voice.