Tamikrest are inevitably compared with fellow Malian desert blues band Tinariwen. Given the obvious similarities between the two bands’ sounds (both strive to fuse traditional desert blues forms with western rock music) and the fact that they are both from the Tuareg group, this is hardly unfair. Indeed, Tamikrest’s leader Ousmane Ag Mossa has been upfront and honest in declaring Tinariwen as a significant inspiration.
However, rather than casually dismissing Tamikrest as a second-rate copy of a superior model, it’s perhaps more appropriate to view them as inheritors of Tinariwen’s mission. Their 2010 debut Adagh showed considerable promise but this follow-up is more fully realised. The band have again worked with producer Chris Eckman – but this time the end product seems stronger, more confident and more polished.
If anything, Tamikrest’s well crafted sound amplifies the elements of western rock and psychedelia. One of the most prominent instruments here is Ousmane Ag Mossa’s guitar, mostly fed through a wah wah pedal. Similarly, the bass lines and the drums are powerful and clear, creating a deep sense of groove and control. The sound on Toumatin is remarkably crisp and attacking. Even the brief prelude Tisarate, little more than a vocal chant and a smattering of guitar, has a resonance and power. Perhaps the most characteristic examples of Tamikrest’s imperious rhythmic flow here are Fassous Tarahnet, slow but full of intent, and Aratan N Tinariwen, with its celebratory, uplifting chorus.
Perhaps most satisfyingly, there is plenty of variety in Tamikrest’s handling of the desert blues form. The music can be quite static harmonically (drones are prevalent features), so subtle variations are necessary to maintain interest. The near-reggae shuffle of Nak Amadjar Nidounia is wonderful, it’s soft, graceful melodies creating a sense of melancholy and regret. Aldjan Adaky, with its delayed drum entry and more delicate tone, assumes a more haunting and mysterious atmosphere. The closing Dihad Tedoun Itran might be as close as Tamikrest get to writing a power ballad. The acoustic guitar interlude Addektegh is a welcome change in texture too, providing structure and form to the album as a whole.
Tamikrest have broadened their scope without divorcing their music from the Tuareg cultural contexts. Yet their music has a vitality and energy that speaks well beyond its own heartland. This music derives its impact from the tremendous discipline involved in its performance. Whilst the vocals can often sound joyful and expressive, the musicians are careful to ensure that nothing is ever done to disturb the potent, hypnotic grooves. For the most part, Tamikrest are a relentless, unstoppable force.