Graded on a Curve: Tamikrest,
Kidal

Delivering five LPs in seven years, Tamikrest has helped bring global exposure to the music of the Sahara Desert’s nomadic Tuareg people, all the while keeping a firm handle on their modern twist to long-established traditions. Named for the Malian cultural center where Tamikrest was formed, their latest is no exception; its guitar-rich and rhythmically insistent contents are likely to reach out and grab fans of their fellow Tuareg movers Tinariwen. As is the norm for the Glitterbeat label, Kidal is out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital March 17.

Tamikrest formed in 2006 in a locale described in Glitterbeat’s promo text as the “spiritual home of a dispossessed people.” A site of conflict during the civil war of 1990-1995, the town was conquered and reconquered many times, and when riots broke out in 2005, Ousmane Ag Mossa and Cheick Ag Tiglia chose music over weapons.

Recruiting likeminded bandmates, they honed their chops on trad-Tuareg stuff and the hybrid sound of predecessors Tinariwen, by extension soaking up a variety of Western rock. Four years later they issued Adagh on German label Glitterhouse, the connection sparked through an association with the American-Australian act Dirtmusic.

Featuring guitarist (and former member of the Walkabouts) Chris Eckman, Dirtmusic met up with Tamikrest at the 2008 Festival au Désert in Mali. Two years later the Tuareg outfit was invited to record on Dirtmusic’s second album BKO, with Eckman producing both Adagh and its follow-up for Glitterhouse, 2011’s Toumastin.

In 2013 Chatma arrived on Glitterbeat, the label formed by Eckman and Glitterhouse owner Peter Weber. Today Glitterbeat is the wildly productive home of “Vibrant Global Sounds” (to borrow their term), but Tamikrest was on the roster from the start; Taksera came out in ’15 amid a spate of worthy LPs from the label, and as Kidal extends the working relationship it underlines the band’s persevering creativity without tampering with the general program.

Prolific by contempo standards, Tamikrest’s records have unwound at a clip that runs the risk of succumbing to formula. The style has been tagged as “desert blues,” and like the US model, it cultivates a devotion to form. No doubt for some casual listeners, one or two albums will be enough, but that shouldn’t suggest a plunge in quality.

Not at all, as those looking for an intro to Tamikrest wouldn’t falter with Kidal as a point of entry. Like much of their prior output, opener “Mawarniha Tartit” gathers its intensity subtly, the rhythm full-bodied but not emphatic as the guitars fill out the sound by intertwining roots and modern licks. A key to success is how the rock elements register as organic rather than grafted on.

The Western influence is more heavily asserted in “Wainan Adobat,” the faster pace emphasizing their experience at moving bodies as the guitar, particularly the short flights of lithe soloing, should satisfy those more aligned to stationary rock appreciation. The dual guitars certainly raise the accessibility factor for curious Western newbies, but as the prominence of longtime member Aghaly Ag Mohamedine and his djembe drum in “Manhouy Inerizhan” makes plain, tradition is not sacrificed.

Even without the English clarity of “War Toyed”’s title, its tougher musical thrust reinforces Kidal’s political themes and continued social commitment. Slowing it down and increasing the bluesy atmosphere, “Atwitas” is a successful if not spectacular maneuver aided by the slide playing of second guitarist Paul Salvagnac. Next to it, the scaled-back fingerpicking/ vocal combo “Tanakra” rises to standout status.

The following cut “War Tila Eridaran” avoids letdown through bolder effects pedal-driven progressions alternating with sprightly and somewhat reggae-descended passages and an engaging discourse between lead and backing vocals. Contrasting is “Ehad Wad Nadorhan,” the guitar much closer to trance blues, though with a hint of Traffic as the soloing is mildly reminiscent of Pink Floyd minus the ’70s bloat.

“Erres Hin Atouan” brings another highlight, this one exceptionally pretty. The string work glides joyously, the mood heightened by the endearing call-and-response vocal as the rhythm moves unperturbedly throughout. It leads into the likeable Malian dance-rock of “Adoutat Salilagh,” the track’s relatively short length very likely to get extended during upcoming live shows.

For the close, “Adad Osan Itibat” returns to the intimacy that helped shape the earlier “Tanakra” while offering some of the strongest guitar on the album. Upon time spent Kidal isn’t the best LP Tamikrest has made, but it doesn’t miss the mark by much, standing as a positive addition to the group’s catalog and to Tuareg rock overall.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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