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Terakaft’s Aratan N Azawad – A Desert Blues Classic

Terakaft (“Caravan” in the Tamashek dialect of their home base, Mali) have a reputation as the hardest-rocking of the North African Tuareg desert blues bands. Their latest album Aratan N Azawad – out now from World Village Music – flips the script, edging further toward the hypnotic otherworldliness of the rest of their nomadic brethren. Like Tinariwen, with whom they’ve shared band members, Terakaft has had a rotating cast of characters – no surprise, considering that the desert blues community is a closeknit one. Many of these musicians are also freedom fighters, since the territory their nomadic ancestors roamed for literally millennia has been decimated by war over the years. This happens to be the first Terakaft album without founder Kedou Ag Ossad, which may account for the more pensive, trance-rock sound here – although the songs are as terse as always, seldom going on for more than four minutes. This latest edition of the band includes a two-guitar frontline of Liya Ag Ablil and Sanou Ag Ahmed, with Abdallah Ag Ahmed on bass and Mathias Vaguenez on drums, with what sounds like the whole band taking turns with the vocals’ mantralike call-and-response.

The swaying, bouncy, upbeat title track works a bluesy riff as the guitars snake and intertwine, bristling with natural distortion, bass rising unexpectedly mid-riff over a simple, insistent 4/4 beat. The second cut is funkier, lit up by a Chicago-style blues lead with slinky bent notes. The title track raises the question of how aware the band might be that what they’re playing is essentially a brooding folk-rock song, sort of a Tuareg counterpart to As Tears Go By; an educated guess is that any resemblance is probably intentional. The following cut offers a nonchalant, polyrhythmic vibe similar to Etran Finatawa; the one after that reverts to the bounce of the opening track but with an even simpler and more optimistic feel.

The best song here, Amazzagh, harks back to the band’s earlier work, packed with delicious reverb-toned lead guitar and a 1960s psychedelic folk tinge. The rest of the tracks range from a trio of Tinariwen-style, suspensefully unwinding one-chord vamps; another with Afrobeat overtones; and a 60s soul shuffle done as desert blues. To western ears, without the benefit of understanding the Tamashek lyrics, all indications are that they’re characteristically allusive: offering encouragement to the young not to give up hope; mourning the loss of ancestral lands; and more direct, slightly more fervent appeals to keep the party going. As this band deserves to: this is their party for their right to fight. For fans of desert blues, it’s an essential album.

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July 20, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rough Guide to Desert Blues – More Diverse Than You Might Imagine

Consider this the Nuggets of duskcore. The new Rough Guide to Desert Blues anthology is a vivid illustration of how much variety there is in desert blues, and also includes some excellent tracks by artists outside the circle of usual suspects. No desert blues collection would be complete without Tinariwen or Ali Farka Toure, and this one’s got both. And like all the Rough Guides, it comes with a bonus cd, in this case a whole album of Etran Finatawa which is worth the price of admission all by itself. But the real drawing card here is the more obscure tracks. The most psychedelic is by Tamikrest, layering eerie, atmospheric electric guitar washes against percussive fingerpicking. The most rock-oriented one is by Mauritanian singer Malouma, with Rhodes piano and incisive, distorted electric guitar accents that really catch fire on the turnaround. El Profeta, by Jalihena Natu has a roughhewn, demo feel, his rousing vocals rising over aggressively squiggly hammer-on guitar work. A pretty standard one-chord jam by Tartit morphs unexpectedly into a joyous, circular dance; Western Sahara’s Mariem Hassan belts her song Tefla Madlouma with drama and passion over a repetitive flute-and-guitar riff.

Tinariwen is represented by Tenhert, a slinky, unusually energized proto-boogie with breathless Tamashek lyrics; by contrast, Ali Farka Toure’s Mali Dje is understated even by his standards, patiently staking out terrain with a series of terse, watery guitar motifs. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba contribute a crescendoing Ali Farka Toure-style cut from his excellent new album I Speak Fula. And Tinariwen spinoff Terakaft gets a track that’s almost funk rock with richly cross-shaded guitars, one running through a wah pedal. There are also a couple of ringers here, a simple, repetitive instrumental by Niger’s ngurumi lute virtuoso Mamane Barka and a duskcore-tinged pop song by Amadou and Mariam with soaring, mariachiesque trumpet.

Likewise, the Etran Finatawa cd spans the range of duskcore: the spacious, skeletal opening track; a couple of hypnotic riff-driven numbers that crescendo surprisingly with bracing electric guitar solos; the majestic reverb-guitar anthem Iledeman; the spiky, circular Aliss and Anadjibo, and the playful Ronde with its tricky false endings. It’s out now on World Music Network.

August 20, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment