Launched in 2001 by Tuareg guitarists Keddou Ag Ossad and Sanou Ag Ahmed, founding members of the acclaimed world music outfit Tinariwen, Terakaft has honed a leaner, more stripped-down approach by focusing on a quartet format marked by twin incantatory guitar lines.
The band next week makes its first California appearances since the release of last year's well-received album "Kel Tamasheq" (World Village), with shows Monday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley and Tuesday at Don Quixote's in Felton. While Ossad no longer tours with the band, Ahmed is still the guiding force with his guitar-slinging uncle Liya Ag Ablil (aka Diara), who also played an important early role in Tinariwen.
"I didn't exactly leave Tinariwen," writes Diara in an email. "I was still part of the band in 2000, but I missed the international takeoff. Later on the band asked me to come back with them, but I preferred to go on with my nephews, who were also Tinariwen members."
The band's name, which means "caravan" in Tamashek (also known as Amazigh), speaks to the nomadic roots of the Tuareg, the Berber people who ruled the vast expanses of the Sahara for many centuries, playing a vital economic and cultural role linking West and North Africa. Terakaft's music celebrates the stark beauty of the desert, the preciousness of water and the importance of maintaining the values and customs that have preserved the Tuareg in the face of ongoing conflict.
The Tuareg of Mali were thrust back into the headlines last year when the country erupted in civil war, a conflict widely seen as an unexpected blowback from the fall of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The Tuareg have risen up against the government many times in seeking an independent state or at least more autonomy, and the conflict has led many to settle in neighboring countries like Algeria and Libya.
When Tuaregs in Libya headed home in the face of chaos and violence following Gaddafi's overthrow, it rekindled the conflict with Mali's government, and Tuareg success soon led to a coup. Instead of seeking an independent state, the Tuareg's erstwhile allies, Islamic extremists, ended up imposing Sharia rule over Mali's north, outlawing music and forcing the cancellation of Mali's legendary Festival in the Desert near Tombouctou. The event has in the past brought together Western artists such as Robert Plant, Lo'Jo and Justin Adams with Malian stars such as Oumou Sangaré, Tinariwen, Khaira Arby and Ali Farka Touré.
"With no music allowed, the Tuareg people flowed from north Mali," writes Diara, who, like his nephew, now lives in southern Algeria. "Not only musicians, but many Tuareg people."
Joining Terakaft on tour is Moroccan oud player and percussionist Brahim Fribgane, who has recorded with a diverse array of acts, including Harry Belafonte, Paula Cole, Club d'Elf, Leni Stern, DJ Logic and Morphine. Born and raised in Casablanca, he settled in New York City in the late 1980s, and while he's never played with Tuareg musicians, he quickly found a great deal in common with his new bandmates.
"These guys speak the same language as I do," Fribgane says. "My ancestors are Amazigh, too. It's the same language. I invited some Berber friends to the first concert, and they were totally impressed; they could speak fluently with these guys. And of course, the music is great, hypnotic and trancey, bluesy and funky, with all those slow, dark desert grooves. It's so simple and so very deep."
The surprise of Fribgane's cosmopolitan Moroccan friends at being able to communicate with the desert-dwelling Tuareg might seem strange, but Berbers have been separated by vast distances and competing polities for more than a century now. And just as the Amazigh language continues to bind Berber culture, music serves an essential role in maintaining Tuareg identity in all its complexity.
"Music is still the voice of Tuareg people," writes Sanou Ag Ahmed. "There are several voices maybe, as there are many bands today. Our voice is for peace."
Contact Andrew Gilbert at email@example.com.