‘Toumast – Guitars And Kalashnikovs’ retraces a part of recent history of the Tuareg. Theirs is a fragmented history made of suffering, wandering, revolt and injustice – but also of travel, comfort and hope. Moussa Ag Keyna, ex-rebel and musician, guides us on these chance and complex trajectories.

Toumast – trailer
Please note that the video quality here is much lower compared to the one of the full film

Born in the valley of Azawagh, on the border of Mali and Niger, Moussa is today a musician, author and composer of songs. He lives in Paris and travels through the world, both on tour and when returning to his family and friends in the land where he grew up. There he visits familiar places where he scarcely escaped with his life in the 1990s. Back then he was barely twenty and carried a “Kalash”. Like many other young people of his generation, he was a rebel and determined to liberate his people from the yoke of the states of Mali and Niger.

During one attack he suffered a serious injury to the leg and saw several of his brothers-in-arms die. With them he had played the guitar and sung of the resistance of his folk. Together they had a name, Toumast, meaning “identity” in Tamashek, the language of the Tuareg. After these events, Moussa decided to revive this group, to prolong the identity of his comrades and, moreover, that of all his people. He writes, composes and sings so as not to disappear, so as to continue the battle. Moussa has exchanged his Kalashnikov for a guitar in the service of the same cause: that of living freely, without fetters, if they are not those that an individual or a group imposes on his- or itself.

Aminatou, who nowadays sings with Moussa, appears at intervals throughout the film, evoking memories of her childhood, times when hardship and poverty, illness, rebellion and massacre was all that could be seen on the horizon: a time when “nothing functioned, everything was sad.” And when she returns to these moments now, images return intact, seared into her mind for all times.

After 1996 and the return of peace in Mali and Niger, the Tuareg made progress. Moussa and Aminatou recorded two records and traveled from one international music festival to the next. Back home, life returned to its usual course. The women of Kidal, in the north of Mali, founded associations to lend assistance to those most in need and to make their culture flourish. Songs sung to the tendé rhythm have helped heal wounds.

Then the horizon darkened again in 2006. Violence resurged in the same region and for virtually the same reasons. ‘Toumast – Guitars And Kalashnikovs’, filmed in 2008, coincided with this new page in the difficult history of the Tuareg. A nurse from one of the branches of Areva in Niger, a young graduate and a leader of the revolt in Mali, all three engaged in the armed struggle, give their opinions, displaying from the inside the difficulties they endure. Now faced with stigmatization and the violence of their states, the powers that be and foreign companies struggling between themselves to buy up mineral resources (oil, gas, uranium), and the infiltration of smuggling bands professing affiliation to Al-Qaeda, the Tuareg are now, more than ever, forced into resistance.

In spite of all this, these people lead their lives and get organized. One woman from Kidal rejoices in a temporary lull and seems to conjure fate in claiming “It’s all right now”, algher ghas (“peace alone”), as the Tuareg say. Moussa and Aminatou, for their part, continue the battle with words and music. The sounds of their childhoods, like a ritual, rise and prolong an identity that is always in flux.

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Directed by Dominique Margot

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