Terakaft - Rhythm Room - 11/7/2013
There are few places in the world where Touaregs-Malian Bedouin nomads can feel at home, but the Arizona desert is one of them. "This caravan started in the desert of Mali, but we ended up in the United States," bandleader Liya Ag Ablil told the small but enthusiastic Rhythm Room crowd. "We feel like we are home in Arizona."
Photos by Glenn BurnSilver
Dressed in traditional Bedouin robes, Terakaft -- which means "Caravan" in Tamashek -- then launched into one of the many deeply moving, driving and intense polyrhythmic numbers of the evening. The audience was up for it, filling the dance floor and moving with the hypnotic rhythms of the music.
That Arizona comfort zone was apparent during the 90-minute set, though the band looked tired and worn when they first walked into the venue. The hardships of a touring band do not compare with the difficulties faced with living in the unforgiving desert, but also living with a government that marginalizes the Touareg people.
While the music on this night -- on most nights -- was transformative and energized, the reality is less joyous. Sung in Tamashek, Terakaft's songs dealt with the realties of desert life and the struggles associated with seeking an autonomous region in Mali.
Yet, the songs are also filled with hope and optimism carried on the buoyant rhythms of the music. Even when the music demanded a slower tempo, the clearly burning intensity drove each song.
To call it desert blues would be too easy a simplification -- and somewhat ironic, given that the banjo and guitar hail from Mali and the blues existed here long before U.S. musicians adopted the form -- simply because there is so much going on in each song. The key, and highlight this evening, was the overlapping guitar melodies, already sounding slightly off-kilter for the high, almost "nasally" tones. Bluesy, yes, but certainly not downtrodden.