Tartit’s Tuareg Women: Strong and Independent

Posted October 31st, 2013 at 2:28 pm (UTC-4)

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.  Tartit with Heather Maxwell. Voice of America July 29, 2013.

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.

Heather Maxwell
Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award winning radio program "Music Time in Africa" and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with a Ph.D. from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

12 responses to “Tartit’s Tuareg Women: Strong and Independent”

  1. Gyrofrog says:

    I’m glad you posted this! I was at the 2003 Folklife Festival and didn’t realize that Tartit was there. (I did get to see Ali Farka Toure, though.) I didn’t know about Tartit until a few years later but their ‘Abacabok’ CD is one of my favorites. Somehow I missed their D.C. show in July — didn’t even know about it until a couple days afterward — but I’m glad to hear they have 2 new CDs out.

  2. sara horgan says:

    Fatoumata Walet Oumar is how she spells it –
    Tabital Pullaku is not a performer, but the title of a piece on an album so named : the performers are AFEL BOCOUM and his group ALKIBAR

    • Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

      Dear Sara,
      Thank you for your comment. Fatoumata has many different spellings to her name including Fatoumata, Fadumata, and Fadimata. I just checked on the business card she gave me and it is “Fadimata” so I will make the correction to reflect that. As for Tabital Pulaku, if you go to the Smithsonian Folklife Festival 2003 program on the internet, you’ll see that Tabital Pulaku was, in fact, a group from northern Mali. I aslo noticed when researching for my piece that Afel has a song with the same title but they are not the same. So Tabibatal Pulaku and Tartit are both “stars” but as groups, not individuals. Hope that clears that up.

      • maiga says:

        I really appreciate the way you respond to Sara, meaning you are part of our people by knowing very well our culture.

  3. Allan Levenberg says:

    Wonderful interview and thanks for the opportunity to hear Tartit and listen to the words of Fadimata.

  4. Heather Maxwell Heather Maxwell says:

    Thanks, Allan. It takes time to translate but well worth the results since people like you can appreciate what people like Fadimata are saying. All the best,

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  10. Would have been interesting to hear the rhythm variations of Sahelian camel’s gait. Great post about the power of music.



Heather Maxwell produces and hosts the award-winning radio program “Music Time in Africa” and is the African Music Editor for the Voice of America. Heather is an ethnomusicologist with Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Indiana University specializing in African Music. She is also an accomplished jazz and Afrojazz/Afrosoul vocalist and has been working, researching, and performing in Africa and the U.S. since 1987.

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