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Tartit - Abacabok

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Artist: Tartit

Album: Abacabok

Label: Crammed Discs

Review date: Jan. 18, 2007

Like Tinariwen, Tartit is a product of the refugee camps that have housed the Tuareg people of Northwestern Africa (or Tamashek, as they prefer to call themselves) for the past couple decades. But where Tinariwen are rebel rockers inspired by Dylan and Marley as much as their own past, Tartit prioritize folkloric preservation as well as the need to connect with foreign audiences.

Post-colonial borders, nation-building, cultural and economic changes, and the unchecked expansion of the Sahara have all conspired to marginalize the Tamashek. Centuries of navigating the caravan routes and singing around desert campsites inform their ambling grooves and call and response melodies; the unusual egalitarianism of their matrilineal society manifests in the prominence that afforded the five chanting, drumming and (occasionally) fiddling women who comprise the nonet’s core.

Tartit’s songs consider the tensions of refugee life and celebrate family bonds across generations, but you’d have to understand Tamashek to deal with the lyrical content. Fortunately the ensemble’s sound is sufficiently compelling to speak to the rest of us. On “Al Afete,” for example, two women trade yearning, prayerful, and entirely affecting lines over a dry, breathy flute melody. Two tracks seem to be field recordings, chant and drum affairs done on location with the participation of refugee camp residents.

Tartit balance these performances with more conventional (to Western ears, anyway) tunes played on electric guitars and sung by Mohamed Issa or guest (and former Ali Farka Toure protégé) Afel Bocoum; their unreeling melodies and tart finger-picking should rest easy on the ears of anyone who already digs Tinariwen or Toure’s music.

By Bill Meyer

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