It’s the hypnotic, addictive groove which makes it so easily appealing...
Ilka Schlockermann 2007
After the first listen you might be forgiven for wondering if we need another Tinariwen-like act, especially as Tinariwen do what they do so well. The sound on Ishumar is without a question in the same vein as that of the godfathers of desert blues (Toumast’s Moussa Ag Keyna is in fact a former member of Tinariwen). But dismissing this album as a mere carbon copy would be missing out on something quite amazing.
Call it desert blues or Touareg rock’n’roll, it’s the hypnotic, addictive groove which makes it so easily appealing to a mainstream audience unfamiliar with African music. After a few listens to Ishumar you’ll be hooked…
As with Tinariwen, the electric guitar is the most important instrument here. Coupled with singer-songwriter and guitarist Ag Keyna’s rebel attitude it makes for perfect fare for a rock audience, too. Ag Keyna is a former Touareg freedom fighter. The Touaregs are a Berber ethnic group, whose immense homeland covers parts of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Libya. Clashes between Touareg freedom fighters and Mali’s and Niger’s military resulted in thousands of casualties and Ag Keyna himself was seriously wounded in 1993 and taken to France. There he continued his fight through music. He got together with his niece, percussionist and haunting vocalist Aminatou Goumar and the French multi-instrumentalist/ producer Dan Levy who whilst not on the cover can be seen as the third member of Toumast (meaning ‘identity’).
The main criticism slung at this genre is that it can get a bit samey but the tracks on Ishumar - all sung in Berber Arabic and mainly about the Touareg struggles - include enough musical variety to avoid being remotely boring. Particularly dazzling are the foot-stomping opening track ‘’Ikalane Walegh’’ and ‘’Maraou Oran (For 12 Moons)’’, which Ag Keyna wrote when hearing that 12 of his fellow freedom fighters had been assassinated.
Ishumar may not be breaking new ground but it’s certainly an outstanding album that will undoubtedly add to the popularity of desert blues and hopefully continue introducing new audiences to African music.