Photography: Paul McCoy / photomccoy.tumblr.com

IMARHAN

Harvest Sun @ Philharmonic Music Room 31/7/16

In the warmth of the Music Room, where a small but lively crowd have assembled, IMARHAN are drawn to the stage with the dimming of the lights. Thriving and appreciative of the decided positivity of the audience, the band creep into their first number utilising traditional harmonies, firmly rooting the importance of culture to these young musicians.

Whilst they take many cues from their Grammy Award-winning predecessors and kin Tinariwen, funk notably influences Imarhan’s approach to Tuareg music, and with that we are infected by some particularly… funky bass that gets the audience locked in a groove. All the while, the band maintain that ever-present and important traditional backbone, with the use of two percussionists who alternate between two West African instruments: a familiar animal-skin drum accompanied by a hollowed-out dome-shaped drum, struck fluidly with a small beater producing varying tones. Working almost effortlessly, both musicians create interlocking rhythm patterns and, with these guides, handclaps and stomps are a-plenty as we all move united and unified in community for this collaborative experience.

There’s a sense of community in Imarhan’s music that always prevails in foreign-language music; that we the audience, though not entirely sure what is being sung, are always sure what is being communicated, and in single Tahabort – an ode to a busy market square in Tamanrasset – we’re instantly in joyous harmony for the movement and excitement of desert life. Like much of their self-titled album, it is plain to see how intrinsically linked their culture is to their music, yet there is a familiarity that unites us all.

As a moodier, atmospheric number undulates on, there seems to be a foreign melancholy that lingers throughout, and the band’s exposure to Western blues rock is evident. This is something that Imarhan have done to modernise and set themselves apart, coupled with their Western-style clothes – save for one headscarf – the range of influences works, maybe in part due the historical roots of rock ‘n’ roll. Familiar West African melodies are played exuberantly, whilst almost psychedelic guitar riffs power through. So, the band build naturally and in sync on each other’s story continually and landscapes emerge, allowing us to experience the cyclical rhythms that converge into a natural conclusion.

Imarhan provide us with a healthy dose of the diversity of contemporary West African music and, by taking various American genres, then melding them with their sub-Saharan story, the band benefit from an accessibility that does not diminish the Tuareg in their music, and rightly so. In Tamashek – the band’s native tongue – ‘imarhan’ means ‘the ones I care about’, and with a riotous call for encore, translation is not necessary.

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