Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Terakaft – Ammazagh

This week’s song comes from Terakaft, the world-acclaimed band from northern Mali. The song’s title ‘Ammazagh’ appears to be an alternative spelling of the word ‘Amazigh’ which is another name used to refer to the Berber people. The word ‘Amazigh’ is the singular for ‘Imazighen’ (Free) which is a word the Berber use to refer to themselves. This word is also cognate to the Tuareg word for noble; ‘Amajegh’.

Berbers are people of great history, with Berber ancestry finding its way everywhere between the thrones of the Roman kingdoms and scoring goals in a World Cup Final. Contemporary demographics regarding the modern population of the Maghreb and its surrounding regions, including the majority of northern Mali, still show Berber as the largest indigenous ancestry, despite the ‘Arabization‘ of the region following many occasions of invasion, colonisation and political upheaval since the 7th Century AD.

With this in mind, the fanfare found in this week’s song points to this Berber pride and the historical depth – the nobility – the Berber identity carries. Terakaft deploy modern instruments to drum up familiar rousing sounds. The rhythm of the guitars denotes depth, resilience and the vocals are simple, strong and are sang in chorus. Tinariwen, another very similar Tuareg band, have noted how significant militaristic imagery weaves into their band’s identity, particularly in the way they say that the guitar is part of their battle charge, their rallying cry.

Here, these themes are channelled similarly, but in a more reflective manner – perhaps hinting at the fact that the Berber people, with their rich history, have an intrinsic strength. Despite their many opportunities to do so, they have not succumbed to the violence and oppressive forces of history. In fact, Terakaft are reminding us that they are culturally flourishing.


Terakaft – Ammazagh

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