Terakaft: Aratan N Azawad

Photo: Nadia Nidi El Mourid

Malian desert-blues outfit offers up a strong set.

Aratan N Azawad

Arist: Terakaft
Label: World Village
US Release Date: 2011-06-14
UK Release Date: 2011-05-30

It should come as no surprise that Terakaft's music bears numerous similartities to that of their better-known Tuareg bretheren, Tinariwen. After all, Terakaft's founders Liya Ag Ablil and the late Inteyeden were core members of the other band as well, and the group's basic sound, consisting of thumping percussion, jangling guitars, and hoarse vocals, owes much to the region-wide traditions of what is becoming known a "desert blues". But Terakaft shouldn't be dismissed as a mere Tinariwen clone, for their approach contains elements uniquely their own, subtle though they may be to the casual listener.

Terakaft specialize in a thudding, propulsive sound that, for Tinariwen, is only a once-in-a-while thing. This bass-heavy tone comes courtesy of Jean-Louis Livenais or Abdallah, depending on the track. With a fuller bottom end than many of the bands in this genre, Terakaft achieve an effortless forward momentum that is as hypnotizing as it is energizing.

This is immediately apparent from the album's two stong opening tracks. "Alghalem" rumbles along like a desert sandstorm, with squeals of guitar and vocalist Abdallah's urgent moan-keening creating a sense of urgency. Follow-up tune "Talikoba" introduces a chug-a-lug rhythm evocative of a herd of camels thundering across the dunes — okay, I'm reaching here, but believe me, the tune just rolls along.

This is Terakaft at their best: slipping effortlessly into propulsive rhythms and jangling — but never jarring — guitar, all of it underpinned by molasses-thick bass grooves and overlaid with those angsty vocals. Angsty they are, too, no matter the subject. A useful lyric sheet translates the vocals. Other tunes work from this same template, like the somewhat upbeat "Ahod" and the five-minute mini-epic "Ahabib".

It isn't all rock 'n' sand 'n' roll, however. Wistful tunes like "Aratan N Azawad" downplay the percussion and slow the pace to bring vocals to the fore that are as much wistful as angst-ridden, the guitars plucked more gently rather than thrashed. The hypnotic repetition is still there, both musically and vocally, but it's tempered by a gentler vibe. Songs like "Aman Wi Kalalnen" and the almost-popppy "Akoz Imgaharen" are similar in execution, while "Amazzagh" splits the difference, offering a pretty melody and gentle guitar line while retaining enough thunderous bottom range to suggest portentous events just over the horizon.

Some songs might suit a listener's mood more than others, but the record is consistently excellent; there's not a clunker in the bunch. What a shame, then, that so many of the tunes are so relatively short. Tracks like "Alghalem" and "Talikoba" hum right along and could easily expand to fill six or eight minutes, rather than the three-minutes-plus to which they are relegated here. It's easy to imagine these musicians getting into a groove and letting themselves go, jamming together beneath the desert stars. It's equally tough to credit that they pull themselves up short after three minutes.

Still, if the biggest criticism one can offer about a record is that the songs are too short — hey, we should all have that problem more often. Aratan N Azawad is another strong entry into the increasingly exciting genre of Saharan guitar music, a movement as hot as the sun that breeds it.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.