Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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

CD Review: Toumast – Ishumar

Hot on the heels of Tinariwen, here’s another expatritate Tuareg band, a very good one. Like their brethren (the two bands share several members), what Toumast play is ostensibly rock, but not what Western ears are used to hearing, although their music contains more definably Western tropes: chord changes, distinct verses/choruses and familiar guitar licks. The band name means “identity” in Tamashek, their native tongue, a matter of great importance for nomads who’ve been uprooted and persecuted in their native Mali for decades now. Like Tinariwen’s music, much of this is beautifully hypnotic, but Toumast is more energetic and melodically-oriented. Their songs are long, often going on for six minutes or more, replete with surprise false endings, crescendos that explode out of thin air, and upper-register blues guitar played with a clean, trebly tone. Their lead guitarist has a unique, percussive style, sounding as if he’s slapping at the strings like an American funk bass player would. Their lyrics are imbued with nostalgia and sometimes outright rage.

The album kicks off with Amidnine, an afrobeat-inflected number that meanders but eventually picks up steam. The following cut Ammilana opens with a chorus of women’s voices, haunting over a hypnotic 3/2 groove with a surprise crescendo driven by the bass before one of their trademark false endings. After that, Dounia opens with the guitar playing a funky bassline as the beat kicks in…and it’s pure 70s disco! The next track, Ezeref begins with an ominous melody that turns out to be straight out of The End by the Doors. Then, on Ikalane Walegh, they mine the Burning Spear catalog for the classic lick from Marcus Garvey, but play it faster, with gently Hendrix-inflected guitar. Finally, about halfway through the song, doubletracked guitars kick in and it bursts into flame.

Innulamane builds on a hypnotic chord until another recurrent lick is introduced, this one from Los Angeles by X. Say what you want about this band, you can’t say they aren’t adventurous listeners! The seven-minute epic Kik Ayyitma, perhaps the best cut on the album, builds its drama quietly from an ominous guitar intro followed by a rousing call from the singer, as the drums build almost unnoticeably until the deluge is unstoppable. After hearing this, one can only wonder how many other sons (and daughters) of Tinariwen are out there, doing the same thing, spreading across the desert via lo-fi cassette recordings. Fans of any hypnotic genre, from dub reggae to Mississippi hill country blues will find much to feast on here. Excellent album, four stars. Toumast make their New York debut sometime in the fall of 2008: watch this space for details.

March 16, 2008 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment