The men and women of Ensemble Tartit are Tuaregs residing in the Timbuktu and the Goundam region of the Niger River basin in Northern Mali. Tartit brought the music from the Tuaregs to an international audience.
Founded in 1995 in a refugee camp, Tartit was invited to perform at the Festival of Women’s Voices in Belgium that year. The group consists of five women and four men, singing and playing traditional instruments such as the tinde (drum), imzad (violin), and tehardant (lute). They later added a guitar to their instrumentation, to strengthen the sound of the ensemble.
Tartit’s repertoire consists of both traditional pieces (some more than a century old, respecting the forms of both words and music) and more recent compositions (created by improvising and taking inspiration from contemporary events to pay homage to men and women who serve their community).
The music of the Tuaregs emphasizes the voice (as soloist or chorus), with the occasional addition of instruments: the imzad (violin), teharden (lute) and tinde (drum).
Certain pieces played by Tartit mingle the sound of the teharden and the tinde with the voice of the male or female soloist, with a singer’s commentaries, and with a female chorus. These are pieces which might be heard on festive occasions such as marriages, children’s ceremonies, various tributes, and also in honor of a woman just divorced. Tuareg society is one of the few throughout Africa who allow women to choose their own husbands, and to chose to divorce them also if the marriage is not successful!
Members of Tartit are well-versed on their instruments, and in the musical traditions of their culture. The Tuareg social structure has traditionally had a great influence on their music: only women of the noble or the vassal tribes were permitted to play the imzad, the small one stringed fiddle that is the symbol of Tuareg society. But now any female musician can teach the instrument to any woman who so desires.
The imzad and the tinde are both instruments that are made from every day, utilitarian objects: a gourd and a mortar respectively, and they can once again be used for their normal functions after they have been used as musical instruments. Both Fadimata Walet Oumar (commonly called Disco among her family and friends, due to her love of music) and W. Mohamedoun Fadimata have been playing the tinde since they were quite young. Fadimata learned it from a servant woman, who would put Fadimata on her knee and tap out the rhythms.
The Kel Antessar (confederation of Tuaregs to which several members of Tartit belong) were among the first Tuaregs to use the teharden lute. The teharden is only played by men. Issa Amanou is one member of the group who was first trained on the teharden by his uncle Khama ag Akouka, one of the greatest experts on the instrument. Issa sees himself both as musician and raconteur. His words are cast in the present tense, yet evoke a glorious past recalling heroes in order to encourage the listener’s honor and bravery.