As part of the 2013 Caravan for Peace Tour, Tartit was the second Malian group to come through Washington D.C. on July 29th. This post features my interview with them in French — with English subtitles. It was a thrill to see Disco again (Fadimata Walet Omar) after ten years. If you haven’t learned about Tuareg music or women yet, I guarantee you will be enlightened.
For two, hot summer weeks in June and July of 2003, I shared the stage every day with the musical group called Tartit. The venue was the Smithsonian’s annual Folklife Festival sprawled out in tents, food trucks and open-aired performance spaces along the length of Washington D.C.’s national mall. That year, the Republic of Mali was one of the three featured regions and I was invited to be one of its music presenters. Every day from morning to night, I presented many of Mali’s superstars such as Oumou Sangare, Neba Solo, Mariam Bagayogo, as well as lesser known regional stars like Tabital Pulaku from the northern region of Mopti, and Tartit from the northern region of Timbuktu.
Fadimata Walet Omar, the leader and spokesperson of the group, spoke only broken French and no English at all.o I was her English interpreter on stage. I remember being struck by the things she said in regards to the fierce independence and power of Tuareg women in Mali. Her ensemble also surprised me: women playing one-string fiddles (that sound like four-strings), mortar drums, singing in Tamashek and producing ululations of many colors.
They pounded out rhythms based on variations of the Sahelian camel’s gait. I also had the job of interpreting this music to assist the thousands of eager tourists who, standing before us day in and day out, wanted to dance and clap to it but didn’t know how. Fortunately, I learned how to clap and move to the rhythms efficiently because Tartit (and all of the other musical acts) gave three to four repeat performances every day. By the end of the two weeks, I was an honorary member and friend of Fadimata, the group, as well as Tuareg music and culture.
Ten years later in 2013, we meet again in the video featured here. We are again in Washington D.C. but this time we’re in the studio of the Voice of America. Tartit is with me again. But this time, as refugees living in Burkina Faso and Mauritania as a consequence of the 2012 civil war in Mali. They come with strong messages of women’s rights, democracy, literacy, and most of all, the hope for peace and unity in Mali.