It was a music extravaganza. The deep Saharan blues still boom – hallelujah. There was the screaming of devotees dancing up a storm. Their gig at the intimate arts space at Rich Mix for the launch of Terakaft's new album “Alone” was simple magical. These guys can hold their own. They were cool, calm and tough in equal measure. It was quite a night, it was extraordinary. Dressed in their desert attire, complete with robes, veils, and sandals – and, of course, armed with their electric guitars, they greeted an eagerly awaiting crowd to the spontaneous enchanting sounds of the Saharan desert rock-blues. Terakaft is fronted by Liya Ag Abil (aka Diara) and his nephew Sanou an outstanding guitarist, self-taught in the pure “Ishumar” tradition by his uncles Diara and Intiyeden – the two considered to be the backbone of the group were joined on stage by British guitarist, and the producer of their latest album Justin Adams.
They immediately had the crowd clapping, and tapping their feet to the deep Saharan rhythms. In an uncomplicated performance, Terakaft had the audience falling into a day dream-like state with most songs sung in Tamasheq, the language of the Tuareg people. But that didn’t prevent the crowd from fully grasping the performance. This is a real display of how music truly transcends cultural and language barriers. In an alternate reality, one where talent was shared out differently, this is the kind of music I would make. It’s truly modern and unique while being massively emotional. Diara the front man, lead guitarist and founding member talks to us about their trials and tribulations and how the band came to record their new album “Alone” across three countries.
A very special and rare Terakaft performance at the Rich Mix yesterday (29/04/2015). How would you sum it up?
The concert was very good. And I know that because the public were dancing, jumping and screaming. I could see the joy and happiness being expressed. The energy was electrifying and we on stage felt it.
What in your opinion is the difference between Western audience and audience in Africa?
I must say this and stress that it is the same wherever we perform because when we play we can see the people happy. They are happy everywhere be it in any country in Africa or any country in Europe. People from any country just want to listen to good music and enjoy good music no matter where they come from. They all expect high standard of course. That’s been our experience. We always get people singing and dancing.
How long did it take for Terakaft to decide what the new album “Alone” would look like and what it will include?
For the “Alone” album it took us a bit more than one year, because it was done naturally between concerts and touring. It was not a straight studio-base thing. “Alone” was done in two pieces. First we recorded half of it at the famous Real World Studious in Bath, England. And the second half in France. And then we sent the complete album to Justin Adams, the British musician/producer who has delved deep into Tuareg music and Justin Adams is known for his work with Tinariwen another desert rock group. So Justine worked on the final mixing. So this Album encompass Mali, England and France. We all decided together to include only nine tracks and name the album “Tenere Alone”.
At the lunch album and gig show at the Rich Mix venue – you guys were just three on stage but it sounded like you were 20 and still manage to bring the crowd to a standstill. How did you guys managed to achieve that?
It is a kind of mix between me and Sanou Ag Ahmed. Sanou is an outstanding guitarist. And when we play the energy we generate is just out of this world. And performing with Justin Adams who joined in with his guitar was magical. The show just exploded. We enjoyed it and the crowd did too. We felt it.
Since formed in 2001, where has been Terakaft desert rock band finest moment on stage in in all these years?
There is a tricky question and a difficult one to answer. Because we have had many concerts I would label as finest. It is too difficult for me or for any members of the group to choose one or two. All I can say is that finest moment are many.
Are you guys still able to make your kind of music sculpted by the desert, weathered, dusty and relentless in this era of commercialism gone wild? Are you under any pressure from your record company to do some commercial and some of who you are?
No pressure whatsoever. Let your readers know this, we’ll never play that game. There’s no arrogance to that. We are still playing the same music as back when we were members of Tinariwen. Terakaft do not think about money first or commercial goal first. We still do sound that is purposeful and even more intense on the desert rock sound that is more symbolic of our lives and about our journeys. Terakaft do not believe in I am going to take your money for you to listen to me. Or we should sing something interesting to you for money. We believe that if we do good, beautiful, music it would sell. Money will come after. More young musicians need to hear that.
There are few countries with a richer musical tradition than Mali. And your country is awash with musical greats such as Amadou et Mariam, Rokia Traoré, Bassekou Kouyate and Oumou Sangaré to name but a few. I wonder what’s the competition like? What’s going on with the battle to be on top?
Yes Mali has many musicians to be proud of and of international standard, but there’s room for everybody and more. The more the merrier. I do not talk about competition for sure, because our kind of music, the desert tang rock music is not played by others. I am known as the master of the Saharan rhythm guitar. Together with Sanou my nephew we do music that no other band from the desert is closer to Terakaft.
We’ve been saddened to read about the recent political turmoil in the northeast of Mali, a country that’s known more than its fair share of political turmoil over the years. How has the turmoil affected the band?
The war has not really affected us that much. We still find time to write and perform. Nothing can stop us really. Two months ago, in February, we played in Mali for the peace concert which is an annual music festival in the desert. And for this festival we played three gigs in South Mali. No war can destroy music. Our music stands for peace, dreams, true friendships and more importantly tolerance.
Would any of the band member find it out of the ordinary to go solo as a one-off?
I have tried playing solo and I have played with many other musicians and I would admit, it was not the same but nowhere near out of the ordinary. But I really enjoy playing with my band. It is home for me anytime.
Music collaboration can be a tad tricky. Is there a musician or a group out there that Terakaft would like to collaborate with?
Oh yes there are many musicians out there that Terakaft would like to collaborate with. But for now we wish we could collaborate with Justine Adams our producer of the album Alone. He is also a great friend of Tinariwen group and Terakaft group. Right now he is a fantastic guitar player as you can guarantee for at the Rich Mix concert. But Justine Adams is on tour at the moment.
Does the group ever have a chill out time together outside music? Or is it all handiwork and no fun?
For us music is our lives and playground too. But, outside music I have a wife and four children and I keep many different types of animals in my farm that takes my mind off the crush of music. But between concerts and studio recordings I find little time to take care of my animals and really enjoy them in the fullest. But I am not complaining.
The group have achieved incredible success – how do you stay motivated now that the dream has come true? Do you feel that adrenaline you had when you got together in 2001?
For us the dream is like making things and the idea we get to continue making things is exciting. Yes and yes. We are still that pretty ecstatic to still be going through that level of joy at this stage in our life, I (we) never thought that would happen. The band formed in 2001 and we are still enjoying every minute and we still enjoy very much every bit of our profession.
There comes a time in every music group’s life when they need nothing more than a good sit down on a comfy chair and say I have down tools. I retire. Can you guys see that in the horizon sooner rather than later?
I don’t think there will be an epiphany moment the doors opening and saying it’s time for us to vacate. I know one day we’ll stop touring and making music and switch off from the music and just be there for our family. But I do not know when we’ll do that and I cannot imagine retirement anytime soon. I still find myself writing songs. We have got enough for another album. The truth is that for sure that day will come but not without hesitation.
‘Alone’ is scheduled for release May 11. If you missed them in London you can catch them next at the Attend Concert De Roma, Borgerhout, Belgium, 12th June 2015TERAKAFT