Ishumar (Real World Records, 2008)
You won’t find any protest CD out on the current market that is as richly worked as Tuareg band Toumast‘s debut CD Ishumar, set for its US release in March 2008 on Real World Records. Intended to open the eyes of the world to the plight faced by the desert Tuareg peoples of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya, the band’s founder and lead singer Moussa Ag Keyna has put aside armed struggle after being injured in 1993 for a different kind of role in the liberation of his people. Keyna puts it succinctly, "I said to myself, ‘There was a time when I wanted to fight with my gun. Today I have to fight with my new weapon: my guitar.’"
With a sensational musical blend of Saharan trance traditional music, rock and desert blues wrapped around lyrics that speak to the heart of the troubles faced by the Tuaregs, Ishumar is a monumental kick in the pants to oppressors everywhere.
Having written all the songs for the CD, Moussa Ag Keyna also leads Toumast on vocals and guitar, as cousin Aminatou Goumar works her magic on calabash, darbuka, jembe, adding her vocals and some impressive Tuareg ululation to several tracks. Producer and arranger, Dan Levy is the master of all trades on Ishumar by playing bass, drums, double bass, keyboards, darbuka, jembe, guitar, percussion, rhodes, soprano saxophone, as well as providing backup vocals. Frederico Alagna provides guitar and bass on several tracks, while Bady Alhassan lends support on darbuka, jembe and backup vocals. Also appearing on the CD is Endi on karkabas, Loran Brunet on kachichi and pandeiro, Akemi Toyama on violin, Vanessa Meneret on viola and Ramoutal Tsur on cello.
Superbly produced and recorded, Ishumar opens with the splendid "Ikalane Walegh" or "These Countries That Are Not Mine" that sums up suffering of the Tuaregs with the lyrics, "Live moves on before them And leave[s] them without anything." Soulful African rhythms and Keyna’s vocals layered over wickedly wrought guitar and bass lines pack a powerful punch.
The CD just gets better and better with love ode "Tallyatidagh" or "That Girl" and the desert blues charmer "Innulamane." Charged tracks "Kiki Ayittma," about remembering the struggle for Tuareg identity, and "Maraou Oran" about the friends, family members and Toumast members killed during the war, are two musically formidable pieces full of shape-shifting percussion and powerful vocals. One of my favorites is "Dounia" or "Life." It sails in on a single note like a wind across a desert landscape and is at once soulful and steely with lusty guitar lines and rugged vocals.
Ishumar is an irresistible force, sharply powerful and provocative. I can only hope that these desert blues put Toumast firmly on the musical map and put the struggles of the Tuareg on the map of world consciousness.
A North American tour is planned for May 2008.
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