Toumast - Guitars and Kalashnikovs, a popular movie of our catalog, portrays the struggle of the Tuareg people through the music of Moussa Ag Keyna and Aminatou Goumar, who together formed the music band ‘Toumast’ (meaning ‘identity’) in Niger.
We all know of a minority or cultural group that is trying to maintain its traditions and history in the face of today's globalization. This is one of the great issues in today’s capitalist world.
Having been for hundreds of years a nomadic people of the African desert, comprising the territories of Algeria, Libya, Niger, Mali, Mauritania and Burkina Faso, the Tuareg have had to face the great geopolitical changes brought about by globalization and modern states.
Territorial borders and the intensification of religious struggles have affected their sedentary culture and even threatened the number of their population, which has been settling in the large cities of these countries in the past years in search for safety.
Despite being a minority, the Tuareg represent a civilization that could cease to exist if their problems are not understood by the international community. Notions such as self-determination of peoples, national identities, and cultural diversity are issues that concern not only the Tuareg, but every community anywhere in the world.
In the case of Toumast - Guitars and Kalashnikovs, the great attraction of the film is the music of the band led by Moussa Ag Keyna and Aminatou Goumar. Both are not only political activists, but artists who use their work to carry a message of social change.
As examples, we find Bob Marley, who with his Reggae music tried to make visible the social reality of Jamaica and fight for the social rights of the underprivileged, as well as Victor Jara, a Chilean folk singer who was assassinated by the Pinochet dictatorship for having been the most popular singer of the socialist movement that emerged in Chile in the early seventies.
Music is and always will be one of the most direct forms of expression and communication with common people. Lyrics and melodies are not only for the artistic evolution of the music but also for the deepest longings of an entire people.
In every society and in every era, we can find interpreters who have been able to collect the desires of a large number of people in catchy songs that have transcended even to other lands. Bands like The Beatles or Sex Pistols, and more definitely the genres of Punk or Blues have this protesting gene that will always remain in certain musical styles.
In Toumast - Guitars and Kalashnikovs we don't follow just any band, but a kind of "desert rebels", people who give their lives with their instruments to create art with their fusion genre and at the same time carry a message of independence and self-determination of their people.
Whether or not we agree with the wishes and demands of the Tuareg, what we can agree on is that these people should have the right to express themselves and to be heard. This is why this documentary film was born, directed by French filmmaker Dominique Margot. (Let us remember that France was one of the powers that colonized part of the territory inhabited by the Tuareg).
In one of the opening scenes of this insightful documentary, Moussa explains to a live audience how the Tuaregs didn’t use to play the electric guitar, for 20 years now they’ve had to play guitar and make war due to repression by the state dictatorship.
“It’s a pity that people no longer want the nomads to go free...The only thing we want is to live like our ancestors, to move as we want across the whole desert” he says.
Viewed by governments as bandits and outsiders, in recent history the Tuaregs have been victims of massacres and imprisonment. Indigenous to the land, their cause has gained further attention from the western world through the spirited and energetic music of it’s people, most notably since the fusion of the cultural sound with modern genres labeled ‘Desert Blues’ & ‘Tuareg Rock’. Their music speaks about the nomadic way of life and the hardships they have faced in their long and ongoing search for peace.
In Toumast, filmmaker Dominique Margot captures an intimate portrait of the vast Saharan desert region where many people live in extreme poverty, whilst still evoking a sense of awe and wonder at this way of life that has become forgotten to us.
The reflective cinematography at times leaves you feeling as if you are witnessing a landscape from Star Wars, such as the alien nature of the Saharan desert to those not familiar with it.
However, the film does not shy away from the reality of the violent conflicts and battles the Tuareg have and still are experiencing. The balance between the beauty of music and the ugliness of war is a constant and vivid theme.
In one scene a member of the rebellion reaches under a rock shelter to find a package hidden and buried under the desert sand, revealing a functioning AK47 gun to be used in raising arms for what they consider the fight to protect their way of life.
The origins of the Tuareg culture remain a mystery and their heritage is a proud and ancient one. However, one thing is for sure; after watching ‘Toumast’ you will have gained a rare insight into the world of the Saharan desert nomads and opened up a doorway of discovery into their vibrant and powerful music.