Imarhan is a young Tuareg rock band, originally from Mali but currently living in Tamanrasset, southern Algeria, during these challenging days for Tuareg people in West Africa. (Check out Afropop’s recent program The Tuareg Predicament in Mali for more on that.) Their debut international album, Imarhan (City Slang) has just been released.
This quintet is young, tight, energetic and quite superb on stage. I caught them in Seattle on April 16, and was knocked out. Whether locking into the deep, pendulous slow grooves of the more anthemic side off Tuareg rock, or kicking out driving jams rooted in calabash and djembe, the band was simply riveting. No Tuareg band out there—including the great Tinariwen of Mali and Niger’s Bombino—has anything over on these guys.
One reason this band can sound great in any club in America is that their sound is exactly that of a classic rock band, except that beyond the starring electric guitars and vocals, the drum kit is replaced by calabash and djembe. In the show I saw, there were no robes and turbans, adding to the rocker vibe of the act. But make no mistake: this is deep Tuareg music and culture, a powerful expression of modernity for these beleaguered but soulful nomads of the Sahara.
Note that this is not the group Imharhan Timbuktu, the band that broke off from Tartit, and toured the U.S. in 2014 as part of the Caravan for Peace. The name similarity is bound to confuse some fans, but hearing Imarhan’s music will make a believer of anyone. Don’t miss them!