Tag Archives: Terakaft

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

Continuing with our Zepplin vibe from last week, we fly north to the home of Terakaft. This song was singled out from a list rich of Tuareg talents for its steel-string guitar, more restful than its electric cousin yet with more drive than its nylon string brother. Nice and reflective, the YouTube community would have me believe that the song title roughly translates as “Sometimes, love has thorns”.

Which kind of love does the song have in mind? Lover’s love? Brotherly love? The love between countrymen? Could be any. As the fragile peace accord signed in June is already unravelling, it is difficult to look beyond the latter. Any love that the pro-government militias and the separatist group showed earlier this summer has been blown asunder by the news that the militia had taken the town of Anefis on August 17th – a direct violation of the peace agreement. The UN responded by sending troops to a separatist stronghold in an attempt to halt the militia’s advances  and save the accord from further damage.

How much control is exercised by the government over the militias is unclear. Peace between the separatist CMA and the militias is presented as a pre-cursor to the army and the UN tackling hard-line, militant, Islamist groups which appear to be the real immediate priority. Therefore, it would lead one to deduce that the violation of the agreement by the so called pro-Bamako militia’s are a proverbial thorn in the government’s security agenda. On the other hand, it would not be the first time in the history of conflict that a period of ceasefire, with all the positive rhetoric and symbolic gesturing, has been initiated and broken for strategic gain. Yet in this scenario it looks bad to be the one to break it…

Elsewhere, around 3000 miles further north, a new frontier emerged where young Malian men also did battle. In a violation of the typical peace and serenity south London is known for, two Malian men stepped out of relative obscurity to go head to head, both backed by highly-trained international mercenaries. Bakary Sako, 27 year old Malian striker for Crystal Palace, netted on his home debut to be Man of the Match and beat Aston Villa despite the promising, albeit late, injection of pace and ability from Villa’s 19 year old substitute Adama Traore. Following the game, Traore – a summer purchase from Barcelona – indicated he will choose to serve Mali, the country of his parents, at international level from now on. Traore is a Spanish national and has played promisingly all the way up to Under-18 level but for reasons not yet known he has decided to switch. Switching national allegiance is remarkably common; recent high-profile players to do so include Diego Costa (Brazil to Spain), Lukas Podolski (Poland to Germany), Thiago Motta (Brazil to Italy) and Kevin-Prince Boateng (Germany to Ghana) who, like Traore, breaks the tradition of moving allegiances away from the developing world to Europe.

Does the love of one’s country or sense of place sometimes have thorns? Certainly can. It is curious however that for something like nationality which is often presented in Britain as an absolute, a truth and an obvious feature of one’s identity, for Mali it often a mixed and contested concept. For a footballer its can be as simple as personal preference, or even – cynically – exchanged as part of a good career move. But that’s nothing new. For the separatist its a matter of life and death. It’s of huge political significance and, when branded as a national of a country they do not recognise, it can be considered a source of oppression.

Does Mali have to have a uniform sense of nationhood for peace to be realised? Now that has to be a question for another time…


Terakaft – Tahra A Issasnanane

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

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Terakaft – Awa Adounia

Terakaft’s music, along with the music of Tinariwen and other music groups from the Malian desert region, is often described as ‘droning’. The architecture of their songs is frequently turned into a metaphor about the desert. Though a romantic way of imaging the music and the way it was written, but it could also be interpreted as a way of a critic saying that it is monotonous, dry, repetitive and fairly featureless.  Admittedly, for an outsider this metaphor feels like a fantastic way of imaging the world that these musicians inhabit. The intrigue surrounding the great Sahara desert is certainly a good marketing tool, and the musicians seem to enjoy talking about their music in this way.

When the music is so enjoyable, and their world feels so exotic and far away, why not get caught up with it all and imagine the desert scene in your mind, the caravan winding away through the dunes? There is a fear however that constant references to the geography and the nomadic lifestyle many of their people still lead simplifies the music under review – does this imagery cause us to forget the sophistication present throughout Terakaft’s music? When reading a review about the British rock band Muse do we endlessly read about how their music mirrors the rolling hills of Dartmoor, or how the tone of the vocals recalls images of the English Channel?

Perhaps that goes a little too far, but its a point worth considering. Anyway, let’s set that record straight. This week’s song of the week is a fantastic song, with the guitar work proving especially excellent. Look out for the mid-section, where the music imitates the sound of a lap steel guitar made famous in American blues, with the slide deployed to warp the rhythm slightly – in addition to the atmospheric production – to keep you on your toes. This theme is extended and is captured brilliantly in the sudden change of rhythm to accentuate the guitar solo. The beat is simplified and increased in tempo, to round off the song in crescendo.

Terakaft – Awa Adounia