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Imarhan At Levitt Pavilion, Friday July 28th 2023

Imarhan
Imarhan

Even though Desert Daze is not happening this year, the festival is organizing musical events throughout the city, and last night, the Tuareg band Imarhan played at the Levitt Pavilion in front of an enthusiastic crowd.

The Algerian Kel Tamashek (Tuareg) desert blues quintet, which consists of Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane (aka Sadam), Tahar Khaldi, Hicham Bouhasse, Haiballah Akhamouk, and Abdelkader Ourzig, formed in 2006 in Tamanrasset, a small town located in southern Algeria, where they all grew up in a Tuareg community with roots in Northern Mali and Niger. Honestly, you cannot go for more desert-oriented music than these people’s music! I had already seen the band a few years ago, as well as Tinariwen, another Tuareg band to which they are related – Eyadou Ag Leche of Tinariwen is a cousin of Imarhan’s frontman Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane – but a free concert of desert music in the middle of a heat wave couldn’t have been a bad idea.

And it was a great idea as the band effortlessly charmed the crowd with their hot new desert grooves, mixing the traditional rhythms of their elders with a louder rock approach that nevertheless always stayed harmonious and melodic. Their style, called Tuareg desert blues, incorporates plenty of influences from pan-African rhythms, Algerian music, and funk but their electric guitars and modern drumset (at the top of their own percussion and traditional drums) added a new dimension to their sonic roots.

After their self-titled debut album, Imarhan released “Temet” (which means connections in the Tamashek language) in 2019, and last year, they released their third studio album, “Aboogi,” named after the band’s studio in Tamanrasset, and featuring a collaboration with Gruff Rhys of Super Furry Animals on the song “Adar Newlan” – Imarhan and  Rhys at an Africa Express event, organized by Damon Albarn.

It is actually very easy to love Imarhan’s sound which blends with ease traditional and modern music, North African percussion, and electric tones. Their music is both familiar and exotic, their name is very welcoming (Imarhan means ‘those who wish you well’) and their attitude simply reflects a call for unity of all sounds and cultures. They didn’t say much more than a few  “Thank you” – a sort of update on their “Merci” (in French) last time I saw them – and sang in their native language of Tamasheq, but their performance turned out to be another proof that music transcends language and cultures. Smiling and looking very concentrated on their vocal harmonies, they produced beautiful melodies where tranquility was intertwined with dynamism and electrified traditional throbs.

Their songs could basically have been classified in two different moods: on one hand, slow-paced, meditative tunes with multi-voice grooves and leaning toward a more traditional approach, and on the other hand, more upbeat and animated pieces with an electrified tempo (mostly due to the use of the modern drumset) meandrous guitars and plenty of hand claps. However, their warm harmonies shone during both styles as they constantly kept their focus on tradition while bringing modernity and throbbing psychedelia during their most rocking numbers. Plenty of people could not resist these inviting beats and the festive appeal of the songs, and soon a joyful crowd danced and bounced to the band’s Saharian krautrock.

With intertwining guitar lines, crisp rhythms, and layers of harmonies, the quintet celebrated their roots with people who, very probably, couldn’t understand a word of ancestral Tamashek poetry and Imarham’s sharp social commentary – the inspiration behind their lyrics from what I could read. However, nobody needed a translation to instantaneously get the rapturous and festive quality of Imarhan’s music.

 

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