Toumast, 2007

Lead singer Moussa Ag Keyna who, together with Aminatou and French producer Dan Levy, has created a sublime new African desert sound, but behind that smile, the nomad on his camel hides many problems.

A nomad, who has spent his whole life amongst the compounds of the Sahara desert, is loath to leave. He follows his camels on the quest to find water, he tends his animals whilst absorbed in song, he wraps his face in the turban that protects him from the harsh desert sands. This is the life he has always known, a life he doesn't want to leave behind. But political persecution and drought are destroying this existence. Moussa Ag Keyna was driven from the struggle of liberation by injury to France where he changed his gun for a guitar.

Despite the pain and sadness in the songs, there is also a passion for the desert that emerges through the lively rhythm, the vibrant melody and an irresistible pop sensibility.


  • Excellent Album The stinging electric Ishumar style is here, along with ululations, crystalline vocals and driving percussion from Aminatou Goumar and guttural call-and-responses from a self-restrained chorus. But here, too, are far sighted additions from French and African musicians on bass, drums and strings... songs of Toureg liberation have a bright, almost poppy urgency. Jazzwise (UK)
  • Music Became The Weapon "We love the Desert, we love its freedom. That's the life that makes us happiest." So says Moussa Ag Keyna who formed Toumast in Paris, with the mesmerising singer Aminatou Goumar... the Dan Levy-produced 'Ishumar' is never weighed down by it's influences, and Moussa's time in Europe has inspired the young songwriter to create new directions for this music, as shown with the funk hooks of 'Ikalane Walegh' and jazz excursions of 'Tallyatidagh'. Straight No Chaser (UK)
  • Powerful & Emotional Based around Keyna's looping guitar riffs and Goumar's subtly persistent percussion, these powerful and emotional songs vivdly conjure images of the desert life of these proud nomads and the pain felt by those living in exile. This music may owe it origins to the ancient rhythms of the Touareg, but thanks to their inventive arrangements and instrumentation they are given a thoroughly modern twist, particularly through the use of rap on the powerful 'Maraou Oran'... The repetitive rhythms, call and response vocals and subliminal percussion of many of these songs on this compelling and thought-provoking album lends them a trance-like quality which, combined with the innovative use of Western arrangements, suggests that the music we know as desert blues still has a few surprises to spring. Rock n Reel
  • Bears all the hallmarks of future success. (Toumast's) debut album... bears all the hallmarks of future success. It's a powerful brew of mournfulness, defiance and reflection underpinned throughout with the distinctive mesmeric Saharan rhythms which Tinariwen first brought to the British musical palate. And lead singer Moussa Ag Kenya has plenty to sing about. A veteran of the Toaureg Liberation Front's armed national liberation struggle in the 1980s, his lyrics touch on the pain of life under oppression and political disenchantment in the wake of the conflict's end. Successfully fusing the traditional and the Western with the aid of percussionist Aminatour Goumar, there's even space for violin and cello in this innovative mix, which takes the Saharan sound and ratchets it up a notch. Ishumar underlines exactly why Toumast went down a storm at this year's distinctly damp WOMAD festival. Seek it out. Morning Star (UK)
  • Ishumar Tinariwen may have brought the rhythmic, loping desert blues of northern Mali to an international audience, but they have competition.... The songs sound like a lighter, more western version of Tinariwen, with some fine bursts of blues guitar work and light, insistent percussion, matched by far more gloomy lyrics. The Guardian (UK)
  • Dazzling .... dismissing this album as a mere carbon copy (of Tinariwen) 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.... He got together with his niece, percussionist and haunting vocalist Aminatou Goumar and the French multi-instrumentalist/ producer Dan Levy .. 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. (UK)
  • Compelling In exile, the Touareg became known as the Ishumar, a derivation of the French chômeur, meaning "unemployed", a term reappropriated as a badge of honour and used with pride here as the title of his debut album. During the conflict, Moussa was seriously wounded and was fortunate to receive medical treatment in France. A couple of years later, with the conflict officially settled, he was contemplating a return when he heard that 12 of his comrades had been assassinated. He elected to stay in France and become a warrior-poet and musician. Ten years later, he got the chance to commemorate his comrades in the song "Maraou Oran" ("For Twelve Moons"), a lament not just for the dead but for the way the tragedy petrified his soul: "For 12 moons I've been a prisoner of my thoughts, my worries root me like a stake." It's a stark but resonant image, characteristic of the reflective, poetic manner in which the Touareg seem to deal with the fallout from that conflict. The Independent (UK)
  • The Desert Blues Given a Crash Course in Funk! "....a display of the incredibly soulful Toureg sound...Moussa, a one-time rebel, put down his gun and picked up the guitar, finding in this incredible music a more persuasive means of dissent. Imagine: the desert blues of Ali Farka Toure given a crash course in funk on a sojurn to Paris. Fuller, funkier and as forceful as Tinariwen, your Toureg collection just doubled in size! Swell (
  • Poetic, propulsive and life-affirming As the second great Touareg rebel-rock album to appear this year, Ishumar confirms the potency of hypnotic Saharan trance-blues. Singer-songwriter and guitarist Moussa Ag Keyna served his musical apprenticeship with Tinariwen before striking out on his own, accompanied by singer/percussionist Aminatou Goumar and, on this album, the multi-instrumentalist French producer Dan Levy. Like his brethren in Tinariwen, Moussa was deeply involved in the Touareg uprising - in which he nearly lost a leg, and his songs reflect that commitment, with "Maraou Oran" ("For 12 Moons") commemorating fallen comrades, the funky "Kik Ayittma" (Hey, My Brothers!") reminding younger Touareg of their elders' sacrifices, and "Ammilana" ("Oh My God, Oh My Soul") condemning the breaking of promises made to his people. ... distinctive Saharan shuffling camel-rhythms, call-and-response vocals and spiralling guitar lines. Poetic, propulsive and life-affirming. The Independent (UK)
  • Ishumar While we wait for somebody to do something completely unexpected with the desert blues, this is a step in the right direction. The guitarist-vocalist Moussa Ag Keyna and Aminatou Goumar, who sings and plays percussion, are here supplemented by French and African musicians adding bass, drums, brass and strings. ..the use of sax on Tallyatidagh and violin and cello on Ammilana that suggest there is much more to come from this exciting duo. The Times (UK)
  • Refreshing as the proverbial oasis Back in the nineties, Toumast was founded by Moussa Ag Kenya, a former rebel fighter, whose injuries led to him being evacuated to France. It was there he met producer Dan Levy, leading eventually to this recording coming about. Ishumar is the name given to the economically displaced Touareg people following the carve up of their traditional lands into the formal states now known as Mail, Niger, Libya, Burkina Faso and Algeria. The songs carry a substantial payload of longing and bitterness as you might expect. …All the elements made famous by Tinariwen are here, a similar blending of traditional and modern but with a little more lightness of touch musically present despite the heavy tone of the lyrics sung in French. ‘Ammilana’ shows a deft touch when it comes to harmonic vocals, offsetting a drone like quality to the music with the sweetness of the female vocal. But just when you think you have the measure of this album, track eight, ‘Kik Ayittma’ jumps out at you with a hint of Franco-punk attitude and some George Martinesque studio twiddling. Think Rachid Taha in Tamasek. Refreshing as the proverbial oasis. FLY Global Music Culture
  • A Fine Album …Looping camel-gait rhythms, electric guitars that sting like a spider ad bite like a snake and guttural call-and-response vocals, with lyrics about nomadic life, love, exile and the Touareg liberation struggle…Ishumar is a fine album. Songlines
  • The rockingist desert blues Like its US cousin, the desert blues is a limited form which can trap a lesser artist. Stick to the basics and you'll soon end up repeating yourself and outstaying your welcome, try to stretch the genre and it's liable to snap apart, losing the essence of your sound in the process. Emerging Paris based Tuareg rooted trio Toumast appear to have found a middle ground. This is desert blues very much in the style of Tinariwen (Toumast founder Moussa Ag Keyna was once a Tinariwen member), but with a brighter, poppier, yet at times more experimental touch. The group comprise Keyna (guitar/vocals), percussionist and singer Aminatou Goumar and French multi-instrumentalist Dan Levy. Guest musicians augment this basic trio, adding bass, darbucka, djembe and more guitar. Carcabou, North African castanets, feature on four tracks, presumably picked up during the Tuareg's exile in the region. Tallyatidagh starts out in the tried and tested style, with circular guitar lines, call and response vocals, whoops and handclaps, before throwing in Levy's squally soprano sax, which sits in the mix surprisingly well. The eerie Amminila is even bolder, with a small string section and tenor sax complimenting Aminatou Goumar's high, haunting voice. Yet everything here sounds resolutely Tuareg. I suppose it's the quality of the voices and guitar playing (when they push it, the band have the rockingist desert blues guitar sound I've heard) that keep things well grounded. Judging by the images in the CD booklet, they look great too. Keyna with his face covered holding his guitar, Goumar uncovered and beautiful. fRoots
  • Traditional desert blues and funkier Parisian influences Nomadic people all over the world suffer the same issues and the North African Touareg are no exception. Their homeland is immense and covers great parts of Southern Algeria and Libya, Mali, Niger and Burkino Faso, thus the Sahara desert. Until the decolonization in the beginning of the 60s, the Touareg suffered severe oppression from the new governments of Mali and Niger. Free spirits are always viewed as dangerous by authorities everywhere and eradication of their views is desired. Such attitudes always lead to the radicalization of the oppressed who soon have nothing to lose. It was just such a situation the young Moussa Ag Keyna found himself in. Atop an inflamed political climate and a serious drought in the middle and southern part of their territory, his Touareg were driven north to Libya and Algeria.___Deprived of their customary trading, the Touareg were out of work and the young were called Ishumar after the French word chômeur for unemployed. Almost naturally, the young unemployed Touareg found shelter with the Touareg Liberation Front and joined their fight against the oppressor regimes of Mali and Niger. So did Ag Keyna. Being part of a revolutionary movement didn't mean non-stop fighting. There was leisure time as well and that meant music. And the beauty of music of course is that it can also act as messenger. In this case it's the Desert Blues. Moussa Ag Keyna had his own desert blues band called Toumast. The word toumast means identity which says enough.___ When Ag Keyna was seriously wounded in the leg, he got sent to France for treatment. It was in the musical and cultural melting pot of Paris that he found himself joined by his niece Aminatou Goumar. When the two met with multi instrumentalist and arranger Dan Levy, the idea for a record was born.___Toumast turned trio now produced Ishumar as a well-balanced mix of traditional desert blues and funkier Parisian influences. On a whole, the recording has that mesmerizing guitar-based sound that is also key to Ali Farka Toure. But Toumast goes further with the truly haunting vocals of Aminatou and the addition of strings and soprano saxophone beside some African percussion instruments. Ag Keyna's guitar style is more Rock-driven than traditional and with the underlying bass lines and strong percussion, this turns many of his songs into real foot stompers. The liner notes reveal the lyrics to be on love, the troubles of living in exile, the longing for the old desert life and are all sung in Berber Arab.