Tartit, which translates as ‘union,’ from the Tombouctou Region of Mali, are an ensemble of five women singers and four male instrumentalists, all Tamasheq-speaking Tuareg. They formed in the mid nineties between refugee camps in Mauritania and Burkinabe during the Tuareg uprising.
I first encountered them on the Festival in the Desert DVD in 2003 (where I also first saw/heard Tinariwen), and was utterly transfixed by their cyclical grunting vocals over handclaps and percussion. I tracked down their third release, 2006’s Abacabok (Crammed Discs) which revealed a broader range of instrumentation such as electric guitar and ngoni, alongside the incredible vocals. It truly was a revelation. There was something incredibly primal and emotive about the metronomic heartbeat percussion and call and response vocals, and the Tuareg electric blues guitar just elevated everything to another level. To some extent it felt like two bands in one, both incredible.
Amankor is their follow up, some 12 years in the making, and it follows a similar methodology, gruff female vocals – call and response, handclaps, heartbeat percussion, electric guitar, flute, violin and ngoni. It feels like a continuation from its predecessor. It’s so self-assured, so carefully composed, so diverse. This album feels more integrated though, where the ingredients are spread more liberally throughout the pieces, and there are no abrupt shifts between tracks. Tinariwen get all the credit for being elder statesmen, and though I have no idea what Tartit have been up to in the last 12 years (though the political and social instability in Mali might offer some explanation), it’s hard to think of a more definitive recording of an outfit at the height of their powers than Amankor. This is particularly important, as the most prominent members of the ensemble are women, one of the few Tuareg outfits with any female members.