ImarhanHarvest Sun and Africa Oyé @ District 7/9/18
An artist’s musical fibre often weaves its first thread to the environment of its creation. This isn’t so much a spiritual phenomenon; the social influence of cities such as New York, London and Kingston, Jamaica are all well documented through countless odes to landscapes rich in influence. Even Liverpool musicians have been shown to reflect the same escapist sentiment as the salt-ridden air following the adventurous current of the Mersey. However, there are few bands as tightly threaded to their indigenous surroundings as IMARHAN.
Although their albums may have only started being speedily swiped from the world music section of your record store from 2015 onwards, the desert blues quintet, hailing from Algeria, have been a contemporary force in the Tuareg music scene for well over a decade. And it is their adherence to the traditions of the Tuareg people that gives the band a near tangible level of spirituality; an enduring connection to their home in the Sahara Desert and the people who thrive it its vastness. This isn’t to say Imarhan have been reluctant to stretch their musical fibres further than North Africa. Rather, their homeland acts a musical signpost to which they are securely anchored, free to spread the sounds of the Tuareg while absorbing further musical influence without fear of straying too far from tradition.
If the band’s 2016 eponymous debut album serves as a warm introduction, then their follow up, Temet, released earlier this year, offers a wholesome embrace with the band’s ability to tie the hands of progression and Tuareg tradition, through a blend of meticulous Saharan rhythm and atmospheric, bluesy riffs. With another world tour steering its way across the globe towards Merseyside, Elliot Ryder spoke to Imarhan’s frontman Sadam (Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane) about the importance of the Tuareg tradition and the spiritualty of Saharan sonics.
Please tell us a little bit about Imarhan. How long have the band been playing together as a group?
We’ve known each other for a very long time – since we were born. Growing up we were always neighbours; we went to the same schools. As soon as we acquired guitars we instantly started to play altogether. Then, in 2006, when we were all still teenagers, we decided the time was right to make our own band. Imarhan was the name we chose, which means ‘those who wish you well’ in Tamashek. We opted for this because we wanted something which represented the band ethos and the friends that make up our extended group. While Imarhan is to many just the name of our band, it is also represents the connection we share with our friends in Tamanrasset.
For those that may be unfamiliar, can you explain your relationship with Tuareg music and its importance to Imarhan’s sound?
We would say that there are two essential aspects in today’s Tuareg music. First of all, the contemporary music of the Tuareg people is based on a specific rhythm – one that is closely linked to the camel walking, played on the tinde drum, which has traditionally always been played by women. We take this sound, which is then mixed with the electric guitar, something that began to appear in our peoples’ music in the 1980s. Another important aspect of the Tuareg music is the poetry contained within the songwriting and lyricism. It’s common for songs to mix ancestral poems with Tuareg stories of today.
Are there any Algerian artists who inspired Imarhan that have perhaps not received extensive recognition beyond your home country?
Personally, we love Alla Foundou’s music. He is a magic player of the lute – a string instrument that incorporates finger picking.
Along with Tuareg music, what other genres or artists have contributed to your musical craft?
It is difficult to say and to pinpoint them exactly. It has the potential to be a large amount of musical influence as we listen to so much music via the internet. We aren’t too focused on the genres themselves, we just listen to as much music as we can, record, and then continue to listen to the ones we like. We come across popular tags such as disco, funk, rock, hip hop, but it doesn’t make much sense to us. We don’t feel put off by the contrast in styles. We like mixing, listening or playing what we feel. We don’t think it’s necessary to give it a name or make it fit in an established genre.
For someone based in the UK, the desert will be a backdrop that strikes up lonely imagery. Do you think growing up in close proximity to the Sahara has enhanced the bond between the band members and the music you create together?
The desert is fundamentally part of our music. It always will be. It is our first inspiration. Even when we are touring all around the world we always find ourselves missing it. It is part of us and definitely one of the reasons why our friendship has been able to remain so strong for so long.
Talk us through your songwriting process. Is it a natural collaboration between all members of the band?
Yes, it is always very natural. Usually I will write the melody and bring it to the others. Then each member of Imarhan will begin adding his own touch to it. From there I will begin to write the lyrics for the song. However, it’s not always so structured. It’s totally open. Quite often it could be another member writing the melody and bringing it to the others. As a band we are flexible and not closed off to any changes or doing things differently.
Do you think the Tuareg people have a particularly strong spiritual connection with their indigenous surroundings? If so, do you think it is important to showcase this connection in your music?
Definitely. Everyone should respect their own culture, just as we do in our music. For us it’s something that’s very important as it serves as proof that you respect yourself and where you come from. If people take the steps to respect themselves and their culture, then hopefully they will have the capacity to respect other diverse cultures and peoples.
Since the release of your debut album in 2016 you will have played in many countries beyond Algeria. Did the extent of your touring have any influence on the songs written for your second album, Temet?
For sure. When writing the second album we really wanted to showcase an element of the energy we conjure when playing the live shows in so many countries around the world. When touring we meet many artists on the road, watch their shows and collaborate with them. All of these meetings and experiences have come together and influenced on our music in one way or another.
Will your growing worldwide audience have any impact on the music you write in the future?
We believe that it will. Everything you see, everyone you meet, has an impact on what you do. There’s no better example than the influence other touring artists have had on our music when passing them in transit. Therefore, we are very much looking forward to our next album already. As a band, we are always in the process of writing and looking ahead to new music.
Finally, you return to Liverpool early next month. Can we expect any new additions to your live show since your previous visit in 2016?
For this tour we have added an additional percussion kit so that we can amplify the various rhythms that were present when recording Temet. In regard to the show itself, we are very much looking forward to playing in the UK again. We feel a great respect that our music has been received so positively there.
Imarhan play District on Friday 7th September – tickets are on sale now. Temet is out now via City Slang.