The hypnotic, infectious pulse of Tuareg music is fully realized on Tartit’s long-awaited follow-up to their 2006 album Abacabok. Tartit’s name translates to “union” and while the group members met in refugee camps between Mauritania and Burkina Faso, they all originate from the Timbuktu region of Mali. Led by the the incredible Fadimata “Disco” Walet Oumar, Tartit is comprised of four women and five men. The group covers all aspects of Tuareg music to create a strong sound that seems simple and complex at the same time on their latest release Amankor / The Exile.
Tartit originally formed to prevent traditional Tuareg music from disappearing. With an ensemble built around instruments like the tende (Tuareg drum), teherdent (three-string ngoni), imzad (violin made from a calabash), and wooden flute, Tartit have not adopted the more standard rock band setup that many Tuareg acts have. This allows the vocals and the instruments to achieve a clean balance that isn’t dominated by guitar solos. While electric guitar and bass are present, they form part of the collective and are never the primary focus. The clear recording, captured at Akan Studio in Bamako, amplifies the unity of this powerful ensemble and reveals each delicate detail.
“Afous Dafous” sets the tone with steady drumming, handclaps, popping guitar, and call and response vocals. The piece references a children’s game that encourages working together as one. A theme central to the album is the reunification of Mali, with different ethnic groups living in harmony as they did in the past.
The depth of the group can be felt on “Yahoye.” The repeated vocal phrasing and soft, choppy bass guide the track alongside a driving beat and mesmerizing counter rhythms. The toll of conflict can be felt in the pleaful lead vocals on “Asaharaden,” which long for a time before the Sahara was divided by war.
Teherdent and imzad add texture to the title track “Amankor.” The constant drumming is accented with some group harmony, vocal percussion and repeated phrases on the instruments. “Tarhanin” also features the imzad which acts as an additional voice, supporting the vocalists. The layers of rhythm make this composition memorable.
“Akaline” is driven by the teherdent on a song about longing for missing brothers and sisters and wishing for peaceful times. A distorted electric guitar is introduced and contrasts nicely with the acoustic instruments. “Tamat” extols the importance of women in Tuareg society and their role in caring for their families. The imzad harmonizes beautifully with the lead and group vocals over simple drumming.
The mystical sound of the wooden flute opens “Tanminak,” a song about reconciling differences and sharing the land in tranquility again. “Tiliaden N’Asahara” translates to “The Girls of the Sahara,” and addresses the lack of water, education and healthcare in the Sahara. Despite these hardships, the group loves their homeland and wishes for global support in reviving it.
“Efaghane” closes the record with a droning imzad and tight, repeated phrasing on teherdent. Male vocalists trade the passionate lead vocals and give the piece a unique twist. A start-stop section in the middle builds the intensity while the vocalists call out with force and bring the song to a striking finish.
This is music that transports the listener to the expanse of the Sahara. It is easy to lose oneself in the steady, cyclic rhythms of the drums and vocals, but underneath there are fascinating polyrhythms that reward active listening. Tartit’s return is a blessing and the group sounds better than ever on Amankor / The Exile. - Alex Brown