The word ‘caravane’, caravan, or ‘terakaft’ – the translation of the band’s name – has great meaning in Mali. Far from the British understanding (damp holidays in Devon) the word denotes motion, movement. Not a unnerving breeze-enduced axel-rocking but rather movement as in travelling purposefully or for transportation. A movement of people, goods, livelihoods but also ideas, knowledge, gossip and music. Roaming, but far from aimlessly. Always with direction.
Recently, a Cultural Caravan for Peace has began making its way around the festivals of Mali. Originally starting in 2013, the Caravan has cleverly and successfully captured the imagination of festival-goers and has therefore delivered on its goal “to promote dialogue, cultural exchange and social cohesion in areas of the Sahara and the Sahel”. The idea of using caravan as a concept in this way is catching on. The band Terakaft used proceeds of their most recent album Alone – from which ‘Karambani’ hails – to fund a ‘medical caravan’ the details of which have sadly disappeared into a timed-out website. Regardless, its the use of the concept which is interesting. Similarly the arrival of a caravan for “water, land and seeds” in Bamako last week caught the attention of the media. One disgruntled farmer explained their purpose: “we are walking for their attention“. Here we see the real significance of a caravan – it is something you can participate in and become a part of. It readily becomes a social and political process. Not always, but sometimes. It makes you an activist.
Music features heavily in caravan imagery. The bands producer Justin Adams explains how Diara, the founder of Terakaft, orinagated the distinctive electric guitar style that immediately conjures scenes of camels slinking stoically through dunes. Adams describes it as a “camel groove, the lope” dropping his shoulder in a sway as he says it.
Interestingly, Adams continues to explain their approach to creating the album by firstly acknowledging the differences between the band’s musical aura live and when recorded, but also noticing their increasing talents in the recording studio. Subsequently, Adams saw an opportunity to push the boat out a little further with Alone. In a modernisation of their approach they found a way of unearthing and unleashing traditonal “ancient rhythms”.
The album Alone therefore acts as a caravan itself: carrying a precious cargo of musical intricacies from another age through to the ears of the present day.
Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.
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