The popularity of the desert blues music of the nomadic Tuareg tribes from Saharan Africa has really taken off since Tartit's first release Ichichila in 2000. We've had two highly acclaimed electric (and electrifying) releases from fellow Malians Tinariwen, and another from Niger's Etran Finatawa. So this is a timely return from the nine-piece ensemble from Timbuktu, and their hypnotic take on this trance-inducing music.
In contrast to their plugged-in peers, the Tartit ensemble is mostly acoustic, with the interchanging singers driven by tindé drum and off-beat handclaps, supported by imzad (one-string fiddle) and the deep resonant tones of the tehardent three-stringed lute. The set-up is joined on a handful of tracks by electric guitar and bass, but the overall feel is one of tradition and timeless simplicity.
With Congotronics producer Vincent Kenis at the helm, there’s an airiness and spontaneity to this CD - at times you can even hear the background laughter and throat clearing of ensemble members - as the group build their insistent, cyclical motifs into a stirring set of celebratory songs.
Tabey Tarate provides an exhilarating opening, the men and women calling and responding over the repetitive scratchy refrain of the tehardent lute and beating of tindé drums and calabash, spurring each other on with ululations and urgent exhortations, and piling on the emotion to a rousing climax.
Next up is Ansari, very similar-sounding to Tinariwen, with electric guitar and bass joining the euphoric celebration of the tribe to which the members of Tartit belong. So it goes on, song after glorious song of insistent swaying rhythm and passionate vocal exchanges, with just the occasional change in tone or pace preventing complete emotional overkill. Examples of those variations include Afel Bocoum and members of his Alkibar band joining the ensemble on a song to investigate the intriguing link between this music and that of the Songhai tradition, and Al Afete, an eerie prayer for peace delivered by two contrastingly beautiful female vocal performances.
A stark and stunning song on a breathtaking album. Highly recommended.