The music of the, traditionally nomadic, Tuareg peoples crosses the formerly fluid borders of Mali, Libya, Niger, Egypt and Algeria. United culturally and linguistically, Tuareg ideas and music thrive alongside more traditional and modern regional/national music. 1537 faves Tinariwen are revered as the instigators and progenitors of the desert rock sound, assouf in the Tuareg language Tamashek. Tinariwen are idolised as innovators and ambassadors of the culture, but as everywhere, the kids have their own issues and don’t necessarily want to groove to the same beats as their esteemed daddios and start adding their own spins and elements to the music. One such group are Imarhan.
Imarhan are a young leather-jacketed sextet from Tamanrasset in Algeria, their 2016 debut album Imarhan is what we’re all about today. I bought this one lunchtime solely on the basis of the LP cover alone, the picture and the Tinariwen connection (produced by Eyadou Ag Leche) swinging it for me, thank goodness. The band’s name literally translates as ‘those who wish you well’, i.e comrades, companions.
The changes in African guitar music are very much evolutionary, rather than revolutionary and all due respects are paid. Imarhan’s lead singer/guitarist Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane is the nephew of Tinariwen’s bass player Eyadou Ag Leche and he stepped in and served in Tinariwen when the conflict in northern Mali prevented several members touring with the band. But even if what is happening here is no rip-it-up-and-start-again punk moment, the music of the region is changing apace. One theory for this is that the young Tuareg musicians of today are growing up in more urban environments than their far-ranging predecessors, which is sculpting their sound and influences very differently.
I could bore on about all this at great length, it is a fascination of mine, but back to Imarhan. I like the way Imarhan have the confidence to open with the contemplative love-lorn shuffle of ‘Tarha Tadagh’ (translates as ‘This Love’) and for all my talk of evolution the only real noticeable changes are a certain gentle syncopation and a real softness of tone; this is not a love howled into the perdition of a scorching desert. Next up is one of my real favourites on the whole LP, the wonderfully danceable, ‘Tahabort’ (no translation, it’s a place). You can hear echoes of scuttling fast-paced funk and hot nights spent whirling around a dancefloor – the ululations just slay me half way through* and surely it can’t just be me who can hear the ghost of the Doobie Brothers ‘Long Train Runnin” in here? can it?
I’ll spare you the whole track-by-track routine, but these are my highlights:
- Ibas Ichikku (No Longer Complains): an atmospheric plea for political unity that cops some Floyd-esque atmospherics.
- Imarhan: Best thing on the LP, another potent, driving dance track with a quite brilliant melody. On very high rotation in the 1537 Fortress of Solitude.
- Id Islegh (When I Hear): a love-lorn lament of the highest class.
- Arodj N’Inizdjam (Bush of Thoughts): a gentle contemplative treat and a lament for a simpler world.
I have only skimmed the very surface of Imarhan here, this is currently one of my very favourite LPs to listen to in the dark. It’s a funkier, more urban, more global trip than a lot of previous assouf LPs but it still has a very gentle, generous heart beating within it AND it’s a lot of fun; a good dance is always a life-affirming thing. What more could you want? There are even sleevenotes, for goddness’ sake! Well, a good paragraph’s worth written by Howe Gelb from Giant Sand anyway.
On the evidence of groups like Imarhan and their contemporaries (The Led Zep obsessed Kel Assouf and the Songhoy Blues in particular) African guitar music is in great hands and it is progressing, which is a definite joy.
Now push-off, I’m going to dance around my kitchen to ‘Imarhan’ like a madman one last time before bed and I don’t want any two-legged witnesses: the cat and the dog just have to deal with it.
PS: I thought I would review this one today as I have just ordered their new LP Temet.
PPS: I came across this excellent interview whilst I was reading up on exactly where Imarhan came from.
*someone taught me how to ululate** and I practice whenever I remember to in the car.
**not to be confused with ovulate, which is a skill I have yet to master.