Malian Desert Blues Legends Look Forward to Their US Debut at Drom Saturday Night

by delarue

Popular, mystically psychedelic, politically-fueled Malian desert blues legends Terakaft make history with their US debut this coming Saturday night, March 9, an intimate show at Drom at 85 Ave. A in the East Village. They hit the stage a little after eight. With their signature mix of thoughtful insight and sheer inscrutability, the band graciously took some time out of their worldwide tour to chat a little:

New York Music Daily: The first question anybody asks if they know somebody in Mali is, “Are you ok?” As all of us know there has been a terrible conflict going on in Mali – have you found yourselves in danger?

Diara (founding member and guitarist) : I am ok because I live in a safe place. I am not in danger, but our families from northern Mali had to fly out because of the danger there.

NYMD: Is there anything particular regarding the war there, and in the region, that you would like to say to people here in the US?

Diara: Most of the Tuareg people just cannot understand why there is such pain in their country. It has become such a difficult question for our people.

NYMD: Your most recent album Kel Tamasheq (Tamasheq Speakers) is a lot quieter and more reflective than your previous one. Is there a reason behind that?

Sanou (guitarist): I think that the songs are the same kind as those on the previous one. But maybe [producer] Justin Adams has brought a cool way to work with us. He is a real nice and positive person when he produces an album. All the work done in time, no stress at all, not any doubt in his work. Justin is a great guy for our music.

NYMD: Lyrics are very important in your music. How do you feel about playing for an audience that doesn’t understand them? To what degree if at all can you communicate your message to them?

Pino (percussion): We’re starting to think about that. At the beginning, during our first western tours, we didn’t really consider, do people understand our words ? Now we meet more and more people. We try to help them sometimes, giving them some keys to understanding what the next song is about.

NYMD: For those who don’t know Terakaft, what is the connection between Terakaft and Tinariwen?

Sanou: Tinariwen is the original Tamasheq band. And Diara is one of the founders of Tinariwen, and also their rhythm guitarist. Diara has been teaching guitar to many musicians from Kidal and Tessalit, including me. When Tinariwen took off internationally in the early zeros, Diara simply missed the plane. By this time he was in a remote place in the far Sahara. He got the message, but too late. When he moved on, he joined Terakaft, my band with Kedou, another former Tinariwen member. Diara is my uncle – he’s also the brother of one of the most important musicians from Tinariwen, Inteyeden Ag Ablil, a genuinely huge songwriter. All the Tuaregs know and play Inteyeden’s songs, including Bambino. Inteyeden’s and Diara’s songs are a big part of Tuareg music, and it is Terakaft’s turn today. Terakaft is holding a real large share of Tinariwen. We think it is the same band somehow. Even Ibrahim Abaraybone thinks it is the same. Different people, same story.

NYMD: Your music is sometimes categorized here in the west as “desert blues.” How do you feel about that?

Sanou: We call it “assouf”. But desert blues or desert rock sounds good.

NYMD: You are making your US debut on March 9 at Drom, which is a wonderful, intimate space, the kind of place you would bring a girl to. The ambience is very romantic there and the sound is superb, more like a jazz club than a rock venue. How did this gig happen?

Pino: We don’t exactly know. It’s our agent’s job to organize these things.

NYMD: Are there any questions that I should have asked but didn’t? Now’s your chance to say whatever’s on your mind that you’d like to share…

The band:  It will be interesting to come and see what the USA looks like…