Out Here Records, 2015

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


There are albums that make for great road music, and then there is Terakaft, a band whose very musical essence is borne out of an existence that is based on traveling constantly. Both the primary members of this Bamako, Mali-based duo (consisting of Liya ag Ablil – aka Diara – on guitars and vocals and his nephew Sanou ag Ahmed, also on guitars and vocals) have roots in the band Tinariwen, which is actually a group consisting of Tuareg musicians from the Sahara Desert region of Northern Mali. So it suffices to say that the spirit of the nomadic lifestyle pulses through the veins of this band, whose very name translates to “the caravan.”my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Terakaft’s brand of music is characterized as “desert blues.” Alone, the band’s fifth album, proudly displays the band’s unique musical style and their strength (which is their distinctive guitars and powerful singing) with full vigor. The songs on this release have simple structures. The singing, which is shared between Diara and Sanou, often has a call-and-response pattern, with repetitive verses, which gives a rather traditional and folkloric appeal to the overall music. The sharply contrasting styles of the 56-year-old Diara’s softer “wise older man” vocals and the 35-year-old Sanou’s fiercer and more urgent vocals make for a powerhouse of a vocal duo. They connect with the listener – even those who do not understand the words, which are sung in the Tuareg language of Tamasheq – with the poetry in their vocals.

The guitars on this album are no less poetic either. The one-of-a-kind slightly bluesy, slightly African guitars are silky smooth like desert sand but have a propulsive rhythm, unmistakably invoking the spirit of travel through the vast landscapes of this planet. The rhythm section is devoid of any drums. Instead, there are percussion loops using traditional Tuareg rhythms, coupled with handclaps. This peculiar rhythmic backdrop to the muscular bluesy guitars does sound very different. But thanks to the sophisticated production by English guitarist and composer Justin Adams, the percussions sound gritty and complement the rock ‘n’ roll essence of this album.

As a band from Northern Mali, Terakaft comes from a region of conflict, to say the least. And in a true rock ‘n’ roll style, they deal with their pain by making beautiful music. This is as real as rock ‘n’ roll gets. According to Adams, Diara and Sanou do not even have an overview of the history of Western rock ‘n’ roll. But they heard the sound of the guitar and they wanted to play it in their own way. And the way that they sing and play on Alone would leave most “Western” rock bands speechless.

Rating: A-

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