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Seeing Tamikrest around this time last year at The Komedia was a spectacle that has lived in the memory, their 90 minute performance leaving the audience danced out and with red raw hands from clapping hard and long. Hailing from Mali, the band are Tuareg people, a nomadic tribe who reside mainly in Saharan North Central Africa. They have a turbulent shared history that contains includes civil war, famine, continual displacement and government oppression. Fervently against the current wave of Islamic fundamentalism that affects their home, the title of their most recent and best album Chatma (meaning Sister) is dedicated to the Tuareg women, as if to prove their point.
Musically, there’s nothing present to put off those who are open to new sounds. Tamikrest songs tend to have two modes. A number of tracks have a sound that’ll be familiar to western Blues fans, whilst others tend to be more percussively led with a polyrhythmic base. The most striking aspects of the music are the Arabic sounding guitar tones which appear also to have influences from Western icons such as Bob Marley & Mark Knopfler, and the call and response vocal style which will be familiar to those with even a passing knowledge of African music.
Undoubtedly, the star is lead singer, lead guitarist and chief songwriter Ousman Ag Nossa. His vocals soar and he has a sixth sense, weaving his snake-like lead guitar through the songs only to, at the moment you think he’s lost, break back into rhythm with his bandmates. Female co-singer Walou Walet Sidati leads ululations galore leading to an authentic African celebratory atmosphere.
While not professing to be expert on the blues or bluegrass by any means, this correspondent left John Crampton’s support slot at a very sparsely populated Concorde convinced this was a guy of national or even international repute, such was his skill. Prior to writing, an internet search revealed that John is playing gigs at local pubs The Exchange, Sidewinder, Bees Mouth, The Eddy and The Mesmerist in the next couple of months. A man more steeped in this kind of thing said on hearing us mention his name, “I am always surprised he hasn’t become more recognised. Superb player.” So there.
A one man act, he uses a pedal simulating a kick drum to keep time. His quick finger picking skills on steel guitar and latterly banjo are amazing. The guitar is all over the place in a good way, close your eyes and imagine two or three of them. Handclaps and harmonicas are well in the mix as well as the throaty singing well associated with the style. The penultimate track, “Who Do You Love”, was a fantastic diversion, starting with a rhythmic bashing of the steel guitar and those petrol gargling vocals, before the instrument is turned around and played the hell out of. His devilish energy means can’t divert your eyes for a second from this breathtakingly raw act.
Sometimes on a night where the crowd lacks in numbers, they make up for it in enthusiasm, and so it proved for Tamikrest’s magnificent turn. Just prior to the final track a lone voice shouts “Fucking brilliant mate!”, directed at Tamikrest’s guitar wielding, borderline genius, master of ceremonies Ousmane Ag Mossa. Given the frontman had addressed the crowd all night in French, we’re not sure he understood, but the gathered devotees did; spontaneously bursting into another round of applause. It summed up a common feeling.
The North African, Tuareg Blues band opened as their most recent and best album Chatma does with ‘Tisnant A Chatma’. It’s the little things that impress, backing vocals and handclaps, perfect secondary percussion – so often superfluous in this sort of affair – essential. This all lays the perfect foundation for Ousmane Ag Mossa to show his outrageous guitar skills, playing winding leads all night while maintaining a superb connection with the rhythm guitar of his French bandmate Paul Salvagnac. The two men indulging in a mutual appreciation society for the majority of the evening.
There were a beautiful variety of moods throughout the show. ‘Achaka Achail Aynaian daghchilan’, with it’s skeletal percussion and hushed guitar lines feels like a distant cousin of Black Sabbath’s ‘Planet Caravan’. ‘Itous’ feels like a commercial reggae number – Ag Mossa is clearly a Marley devotee – informed by both afrobeat and Middle Eastern sounds. The most memorable track and set closer ‘Imanin bas Zihoun’ is a fantastic melange of cultures, with ululations, call and response vocals supporting a tune that is right out of the Western blues-rock template.
What Tamikrest get so right is the balance. Not so alien as to be off-putting but weird enough to be mysterious. Infinitely danceable but with slow moments. Politically motivated but clearly having a good time. A constantly enthusiastic crowd spends the majority of the evening performing the ‘Tamikrest Shuffle: feet moving left to right, right to left, head shaking, look of joy on the face. If anyone could bottle that feeling they’d be very rich indeed.