Terakaft is a Tuareg “desert blues” band on the order of the better-known Tinariwen. That’s no coincidence, because rhythm guitarist Diara (Liya Ag Ablil) was one of Tinariwen’s founders. He’s now playing in Terakaft with another Tinariwen alumnus, his nephew, lead guitarist and singer Sanou Ag Ahmed. Their fifth album Alone is the second produced by British guitarist and producer Justin Adams, who has helped make this one a full-on rock album.
“Terakaft always sounds rock on stage,” frontman Ag Ahmed is quoted as saying in the press material. “This time we wanted to underline it on record. That was the central idea when we discussed the sessions with Justin. He just wanted to show our real personality.”
The album is bookended with two versions of “Anabayou (Awkward)” that show both the band’s rock personality and its around-the-desert-campfire spirit. First off is the rock version, which launches with the thunder of drums that are simultaneously tribal and dance-floor. (In fact Adams made subtle use of drum loops on the album, which just makes it that much more friendly to Western ears.) The twin guitars of Ag Ahmed and Diara soon join, with Ag Ahmed leading the vocals. You really know you’re somewhere slightly different, though, when the crunchy power chords hit the solar plexus during the first turn-around. This is desert rock as power pop. “Our goal with this was to make the songs very danceable,” according to Ag Ahmed. They’ve succeeded. The solo version at the album’s other end features Ag Ahmed fingerpicking an electric guitar pushed close to distortion, and his slightly hushed, reverb-laden vocals that seem to echo off into the dunes. This track more than any other reveals this music as blue and joyous at once.
In between lie the subtly varied richness of this genre, with some special Terakaft touches. Most notable is “Karambani (Nastiness)” with dueling surf-guitar lines, a dance-floor beat and funk bass. Here is a performance video of “Karambani (Nastiness) performed by a stripped-down ensemble.
My next favorite is “Amidinin Senta Aneflas (My confidant)” a highly affecting fast rocker. It’s packed with racing, swirling guitars, a Township-rock sound, bluesy progressions, and is that a harmonica? Other standouts: “Itilla Ihene Dagh Aitma (To my brothers),” a droning shuffle with a very African-sounding polyrhythmic foundation; the poppy “Oulhin Asnin (My heart suffers)” a bit of Fleetwood Mac in the Sahara with its layers of snake-like guitar lines and a classic-rock melody; and “Wahouche Natareh (Lions)” with a clean indie-rock guitar sound and a world-folk 6/8 beat.
There’s no mistaking this style of music for anything else. That’s due largely to the rhythm guitar style (allegedly pioneered by Diara) that mimics the rocking gait of a camel. Terakaft, after all, means “Caravan.” With its rock-style production, heavy, looping percussion and melodic guitar lines, Terakaft’s Alone is poised to find a large audience.
(OutHere Records, 2015)