Diverse, Dusky Desert Sounds from Terakaft
Music is an even more intrinsic part of the fight for freedom in the third world than it is in the west, perhaps because music from those cultures hasn’t been as corporatized and bled dry of meaningful content as it has in the US and Europe. From a non Tamasheq-speaking point of view, to listen to desert blues band Terakaft’s new album Kel Tamasheq – “Tamasheq Speakers,” in the Tuareg nomads’ native tongue – strictly for the music is like a non-English speaker trying to make sense of the Clash or the Coup. But like those two bands, while their potent antiwar message is inseparable from their music, the tunes stand for themselves. Begun as something of a harder-rocking side project for members of iconic duskcore band Tinariwen, Terakaft have since solidified their identity; this new album, their fourth, is their most eclectic, and surprisingly, a lot quieter and more pensive than Aratan N Azawad, their album from last year.
While it’s amazing how interesting these guys can make a one-chord jam, this isn’t all just long, mesmerizingly cyclical vamps. Although that is how they start the album; a spare, lingering guitar phrase opens it, then they’re off and scampering with an unusual force and drive for this kind of music. Credit producer Justin Adams for beefing up the rhythm section and allowing for separation between the guitars, which enhances the psychedelic factor. Given the shared vernacular with American blues – which goes back to Africa, after all – a lot of these songs sound like electrified, rhythmically altered versions of tunes that might have come out of the Mississippi delta a hundred years ago. The album’s second track is characteristic, a north Malian counterpart to a swaying blues-rock song, fluid hammer-ons alternating with sparse, stinging guitar accents over an undulating pulse.
The third track has an unexpectedly bouncy soukous influence; the one after that sounds like a Tuareg response to noir cabaret, with its catchy riffage and ba-bump rhythm. After that, the band goes into a more low-key, dusky, traditional desert atmosphere, then follows that with the briskly walking Imad Halan, a broadside directed at the fundamentalists who’ve fueled the catastrophic civil war raging in Mali.
They then return to a warmer, hypnotic desert blues vibe, which picks up when they segue into the gorgeously pensive, visceral longing of Imidiwan Sajdat Ahi, which reaches for a psychedelic, polyrhythmic, intertwining sound that evokes the Grateful Dead, especially as it speeds up at the end. From there, they keep the bracingly modal, polyrhythmic pulse, then sway soulfully through a glimmering nocturne and then the album’s catchiest number, a straight-up rock song, its precise, careful guitar leads resonating over a steady backbeat: it’s the most western thing here. They end the album with a return to sparser, duskier ambience.
Like their Tinariwen brethren, the band has a somewhat rotating cast of members: this particular unit includes Liya Ag Ablil on guitars, Sanou Ag Ahmed and Abdallah Ag Ahmed on guitars and bass and Mathias Vaguenez on percussion. Pretty much everybody sings. The lyrics – in Tamasheq – address the here and now: the horror of war, the alienation of exile and pride for the group’s nomadic heritage. The album is just out from World Village Music.