The boundaries between traditional and modern forms are exceptionally fluid in the music of many parts of Africa. There is an element that connects the music to traditions. The instrumentation may include electric guitar but the lyrics will be about exile or the joy of a religious holiday. Those connections are close to the surface throughout Tartit's album. Tartit is an extended family of Tuareg women from the area around Timbuktu, Mali. The Tuaregs were traditionally a desert nomad people. The CD's liner notes detail the recent history of the Tuareg people that has resulted in large numbers of them living in refugee camps.
Tartit was formed out of a women's association within a refugee camp in Burkina Faso although they are now based in Belgium. The music on Ichichila is modern in the sense that most of it has been recently composed. Lyrics talk about the struggle against under-development and the desire to return to traditional homelands where the Tuareg raised cattle, sheep and goats. There are also some traditional love and relationship songs. In Tuareg society, the traditional role of a musician is that of a journalist; describe tribal events, encourage and inform people and be the guardians of tribal history.
A lead singer spins out a narrative phrase. A chorus vocal answers her. Hand clapping and simple frame drum percussion accompanies the song. In this sense, the music of Tartit has similarities to other Arab Sahara peoples. What is really stunning is when Tartit's Mohamed Issa Ag Oumar whips out an electric guitar to accompany the singers. On songs like "Ichichila" and "Holiyane Holiyana," the guitar is used in the same spare way that Malian musician Ali Farka Toure uses the guitar. Another powerful track is the instrumental "Egad Desouf," a solo fiddle tune played on the imzad, traditionally considered a women's instrument among the Tuareg. Recorded in a Brussels studio, the sound is excellent. The performance is spirited and since precious little Tuareg exists on recordings, this CD is essential for world music audiences. -Aaron Howard
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