Ensemble Tartit at Meany Hall, Seattle, WA USA, April 26, 2003

Opening with a song entitled Democracy, the Tuareg musical group, Ensemble Tartit ignited a relationship with a Seattle audience as well as, opening ears, eyes and minds to a culture that exists in the sands of the African Sahara Desert. Needless to say that it was easy to forget that we were in fact sitting in a packed auditorium while members of Tartit, including four veiled male and five powerful women musicians, sat crossed leg on an oriental rug that graced the stage.

They could in fact be sitting around a cozy campfire sharing their thoughts of politics and life through a reverie of polyphonic voices, hand claps while accompanied by an array of exotic string instruments. One might even be reminded of the French classic, The Little Prince in which the titular character finds himself wandering through the Sahara encountering treasures and insights along the way. It’s an adventure that some might find themselves romanticizing, yet in reality and sadly this nomadic lifestyle is fading with the sands of time due to economics, politics and AIDS (a plague that sweeps across the African continent).

All of these problems were addressed in Tarit’s repertoire of songs and the groups multi-city US tour in which the group appeared in concert and taught workshops at public schools further emphasizes the need for preservation of the Tamashek culture. After all, when tribal cultures lose their natural way of life, they are faced with immense poverty as they try to assimilate into the dominant culture. Language and music disappear along with the souls of those cultures. Everyone loses and it’s a sad affair.

Politics aside, Tartit’s musicians, dancers and vocalists instated a celebratory mood filled with flirtation between the musicians, lively call and response songs and performances on the one-string violin (imzad played by Tafa Walet Alhousseini) lute (tehardant played by Issa Amanou & Idwal Ag Mohamed), an acoustic guitar (Mohamed Issa Ag Oumar) and drums (tinde performed by Walet Mohamedun Fadimata & Fadimata Walet Oumar). Many of the audience members would remember the title of the songs by the instruments featured on the songs. Five of the Tuareg musicians also danced, but not in the usual manner one would expect. Many of the dances were performed in seated positions with the combination of hand gestures and body movements that sent waves under the layers of muslin worn by the performers thus creating a hypnotic effect or something you would expect to find in ancient Egypt.

A few of the dances were performed standing and while hips and pelvis bones did sway, one would never confuse the dancing with more primal dancing found across the African continent. The group leaned toward flowing movements that captured timelessness. It’s difficult to describe and too many adjectives would ruin the magic of the moment. Ensemble Tartit ended the concert with Voice of the Desert, a song that featured a marriage of male and female vocals which could easily be mistaken for a spiritual possession ceremony. As an encore, three of the vocalists sang a capella leaving the audience wanting more. There are CD’s available for those folks who missed this fabulous performance. (As the review appeared on Cranky Crow World Music site).

Author: cranky crow