Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Terakaft – Akh Issudar

Terakaft means caravan in the West African Tamashek language. Of all the desert blues bands to spring from Mali and the surrounding area in recent years, Terakaft – a Tinariwen spinoff – are the most rocking and accessible. While the concept of changing chords didn’t originate in the west – Asian music had them centuries before the major and minor scale as we know them today came into use in Europe – chord changes aren’t a part of traditional West African melodies. As with Indian ragas, traditional Tuareg nomad songs stay in the same key while the lyrics change, choruses add or subtract members, the tempo shifts and the music swells or diminishes. For that reason, Terakaft – and Tinariwen as well – are something of a paradigm shift (it figures that the nomadic Tuareg people, from the war-torn desert and exposed to more cultures than most of their compatriots, would be pushing the envelope).

 

While not rock music in the conventional sense of the word, Terakaft’s songs on this debut cd are all about the guitars: clanging, jangling, plinking, often lushly and richly overdubbed, frequently over a swinging beat with lots of triplets. The two guitarists, Tinariwen alumni Kedou Ag Ossad and Liya Ag Ablil, typically play straight through their amps without effects save for some occasional wah-wah, or using the wah pedal as a flange to add a phaser effect. The resulting textures harken back to 1960s psychedelic rock, trebly and reverberating without a lot of sustain.

 

The first song on the cd and a couple of others stay in the same key and let the voices and the rhythm section handle the dynamics. A handful of others have changes that would be perfectly at home in a dark, minor-key Irish ballad. Still more, with the twangy, trebly sound of the guitars playing off each other, resemble nothing less than the meandering, pensive Mississippi hill country blues of Junior Kimbrough. But nothing is predictable: the guitars often jump out of character. The cd’s second song contains a darkly noisy passage straight out of the Thalia Zedek indie rock songbook circa 1992; its tenth delves into screechy, overtone-laden noise like Keith Levene would play in Public Image Ltd. The songs’ common link is that they’re all more or less hypnotic, with lyrics that touch on subjects ranging from homesickness to daily life along the desert trail. Fans of psychedelic rock, jam bands and the Fat Possum blues catalog would all do well to check out these groundbreaking rockers.

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October 15, 2008 - Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , ,

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