So after fighting my way through fog so thick I could barely see the car in front of the 1537-mobile on the M62*, I pitched up at the grandly-named and grandly-environed Howard Assembly Rooms to see my latest desert crush, Tamikrest. The Howard Assembly Rooms is a really interesting venue dating from 1879, an old 300 capacity concert room nestled inside Leeds Grand Theatre, which was refurbished with a striking wooden back screen, although the ornate painted ceiling is pure Victorian elegance.
After enduring rather than enjoying a singer-songwriter type support act (he could certainly play guitar, but everything else needed work) anticipation mounted until the lights dimmed a bit and Tamikrest sauntered onstage. A seven-piece outfit these days, they take a few moments to get everything set out and then Ousmane Ag Mossa nods to the rhythm section and peels off the first guitar lick and then we’re off, straight into an extended desert groove. I was up close and it was fun to be able to see every smile, nod and laugh that passed between the band and they’re an entertaining lot to watch, all seven of whom have a lot of stage presence. Within two songs I had fallen in love with vocalist Wenou Walet Sidati, her understated vocals and graceful swaying dancing was just supremely dignified and later when they upped the tempo to a frenzy on the last two tracks of the night her ululations and exhortations to us to clap had us all bobbing about in our seats**. I’m not much of a clapper-along either, like most things in life I give up and drift off, usually after about 6 claps, whenever someone tells me to, last night I must have clapped fast through about five fast tracks solid and it would never have occurred to me to let Wenou down and stop, to the point where my palms felt funny this morning.
The musicianship was, of course, brilliant but I was particularly drawn to the percussionists and drummer, Tamikrest are slightly unusual in that they use a full western drum kit in addition to Malian percussion and this really drives the up-tempo rockers like second-to-last track ‘Djanegh Etoumast’. Tamikrest have next to no English apart from ‘Thank you’ and my French was only good enough to grasp one word in three of their introductions and I’m sorry to reach for the oldest cliché in the book, but music cuts right through verbal communication at times. One song in particular was incredibly sad, written by Ousmane when he was a child about the difficulties of growing up in the desert and bemoaning the precarious nature of life without enough water and the dearth of education (he originally wanted to be a lawyer, I read somewhere), it was the most achingly sad and heartfelt tune I’ve heard in an age.
In fact Ousmane is a very compelling band leader as well as genius guitarist, he has an almost sleepy, quite shy air about him and is a real ringer for a young Bob Marley – another influence as the reggae-touched track ‘Itous’ (from Chatma) illustrates and you get the sense the rest of Tamikrest play hard to please him and win the smiles he favours us all with at the end.
Tamikrest were excellent from start to finish, there was a lot of variation in their music and you know what? we were a good audience too. You could see the band were pleasantly surprised by the fervid reception they deserved and won from us, particularly when some very un-British spontaneous dancing and ululating^ broke out down the front near the end. I’m not naïve I know Tamikrest spend probably the bulk of their time in Europe now, LP recorded in Czech Republic for a German record label (the brilliant Glitterbeat), but it must still be a hell of a thing to come from so far away, culturally and geographically, to a cold, foggy Leeds and get such a reception. They thoroughly deserve it. I really want to see them again already.
See them, treat yourself, be prepared to clap a lot.
272 Down (still).
*Advantages – I couldn’t see Saddleworth Moor: Disadvantages – increased danger of sudden automobile-based fiery death: Verdict – Acceptable.
**my only criticism is that this was a seated concert, which is fine for classical music but really not appropriate for an act as vibrant as Tamikrest.
^ever wanted to ululate? I was advised last night you make a u-u-u sound repeatedly as high-pitched and as fast as you can whilst moving your tongue from side to side. I know it’s a girl thing but I’m going to damn well practice in the car in the mornings until I’ve mastered it. True story.