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Interview of Tamikrest

Tamikrest represents the next generation of Tuareg rock, what is usually referred to as ishumar rock, the rock of the unemployed. Following the example of the legendary band Tinariwen, Tamikrest has been touring the world for the past months, the first time outside the African continent. I’ve met Aghaly Ag Mohamadine and Cheikh Ag Tigly, respectively percussionist and bassist of the group, as they were passing by Paris. They’ve talked about their debut album, Adagh, the life conditions in their home of Kidal, in Northern Mali, and of course, their main source of inspiration, Tinariwen.

Nicolas Roux: This is your first tour outside Africa. How has it been so far?

Aghaly Ag Mohamadine: We’re a little tired but it’s going well.

Cheikh Ag Tigly: We’re starting to get used to the rain, the cold, and the bad weather. It’s completely different from playing in Mali.

Nicolas: You’re the new generation of Tuareg ishumar music. How have you ended up being musicians?

Aghaly: I’d been listening to music cassettes, most notably Tinariwen, since 2000 and I was also friend with Tinariwen’s percussionist. I started to learn music then. When I met Ousmane [Ag Mossa, singer of Tamikrest] and Cheikh, we decided to form a band made of youngsters. The idea came up while we were having a tea! In our Tamashek language, we say: “If you see two Tuaregs, then tea is the third one.” In our case, there were three of us and tea was the fourth one!

Nicolas: Tamikrest means the knot, the coalition. Why did you choose that name?

Aghaly: The Tamashek people are formed of different clans, tribes, races, etc. They’ve always been divided. The coalition means being together. We really want our people to be united so it’s stronger, hence the coalition.

Nicolas: Your debut album, Adagh, has just been released. The influence of Tinariwen is quite strong. However the album goes a little further with a darker, harder rock sound. Why did you go this way?

Aghaly: When we started to play music with Ousmane, we didn’t have enough equipment to make rock music, as we were in the desert. So we played simple things. That’s only when we got in the studio that we began to have a different approach.

Cheikh: We’d also been listening to rock music and we wanted to introduce that in our songs.

Aghaly: Yes, our aim was to bring different elements into the traditional Tuareg sound. We’ve all been fans of Dire Straits, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and you listen to our music, you’ll hear all these ideas. It’s good to respect our traditions but at the same time you can make them evolve.

Nicolas: Your lyrics are quite sad. Does that reflect your personal vision of the life conditions in the desert?

Aghaly: The lyrics are about our people. Ousmane wrote them to tell how our people hurt.

Cheikh: It’s a message that should be spread throughout the whole world.

Aghaly: Our people are suffering. We have to tell the world what we’ve been going through.

Nicolas: Has Tinariwen’s success been beneficial to the Sahara region?

Aghaly: If Tinariwen didn’t exist, many people wouldn’t know who the Tuaregs are. And that’s already a positive point. Tinariwen has brought culture and a message. Thanks to them, the whole world now knows where the Tuaregs are.

Nicolas: Violent fights raged in Northern Mali for many years. The last rebellion occurred in 2006. Were you ever part of it?

Aghaly: Actually, we’re not interested in fighting. Our fight is through guitars and art.

Cheikh: Yes, exactly. As far as we’re concerned, a musician is like an ambassador.

Nicolas: What’s the youth’s condition in Northern Mali?

Aghaly: Many young people are unemployed. They’re not considered as real Malians. There’s been many peace deals [with the Malian authorities] but they’re rarely applied. And people wait and wait till the day they’re applied. It’s been the same story for years since 1990. The youths are just forgotten.

Nicolas: What do they yearn for then?

Aghaly: They just want to be considered as actual Malian citizens. They want to have the same rights. They want to work. Most young Tuaregs have never been to school. They can only do physical jobs. But they’re held back. They just sit in the desert, sometimes even without water. The conditions are very hard.

Nicolas: What’s been Tinariwen influence on them?

Aghaly: As far as I’m concerned, I wanted to be like them when I was younger. So I could frankly to say how I hurt. I can see many things and learning to play guitar has proved to be useful. If I just tell people stories in the street, they won’t care. But if I take my guitar, they will listen. And then it could lead to a coalition. What we mentioned earlier.

Nicolas: Where is Tamikrest’s place compared to Tinariwen?

Aghaly: Tinariwen are the creators of the ishumar music. Now it’s up to us to develop the concept and to take it further.

Cheikh: We can make it evolve too. Tinariwen are like our older brothers. And there will be another generation after us. It’s an ever-going turnover.

Aghaly: Yes, the music will always be there!

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