It’s hard to believe that this Malian Tuareg group, so often unfairly regarded as Tinariwen’s lesser proteges, are already on to their third album. Chatma should do much to distance Tamikrest from their more established mentors, as it is by some distance their most confident and assured album so far. It comes with a full bodied, powerful rock sound, through which it finds the common ground between Malian desert blues and blues-informed western rock (it’s particularly easy to hear strains of Led Zeppelin or Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, whilst Assikal is influenced by Pink Floyd).
It isn't easy following in the steps of Tinariwen, but Tamikrest are the brightest young contenders among the new Tamashek-speaking desert blues bands mixing traditional styles with elements of indie rock. Driven from northern Mali by the fighting and imposition of sharia law, they are currently exiled in Algeria, and their new set is a concept work, dealing with the courage of Tuareg women and the suffering of the past year. But the music is anything but bleak, driven on by sturdy bass, insistent percussion, and gently driving and inventive guitar work from lead singer Ousmane Ag Mossa, who also duets with the band's fine female singer Wonou Walet Sidati, formerly with Tinariwen.
Due to the conflict in Mali, Tamikrest are currently living in exile in neighbouring Algeria and their third album serves as a dispatch to update the outside world of the current plight of the Tuareg people. In the two years since their last album large parts of Mali, including their home town of Kidal in the north, have been invaded by extreme Islamist militia brutally imposing Sharia law, and on Chatma Tamikrest don't hold back in telling their side of what is happening. The title translates into the Kel Tamashek for "sisters" and the album is dedicated to the Tuareg women, who have lived through poverty, malnutrition, illness and losing their loved ones as a consequence of recent events, while ensuring "both their children's survival and the morals of their father and brothers.
The music of Tamikrest is so imbued with the upheaval, sadness and defiance of the Tuareg communities spread across the countries that span the Saharan desert, that applying Western rock critique mores to the band’s work feels somewhat trivial. Yet to patronise the group’s wares with over-compensating for the fact that merely keeping its members together is a struggle against the background of political and social homeland trauma could also be wrong. For Tamikrest’s collective muse has a life that can be judged on its own terms, on top of the contexts that bring it forth.