10th September | Thekla
Photos: Hannah Rooke
Mondays in September, the blue start of another week as the long shift until next summer begins. Imarhan show little sign of any autumnal listlessness tonight, giving the sound man no time to unplug his iPod from the PA before initiating the stuttering bass triplets of opener, ‘Azzaman’.
This assured gesture shows a band who’ve come far whilst touring in support of their second album Temet. For tonight, the last show of the tour’s UK leg, a modest audience gathered on Thekla’s dancefloor are treated to a direct and largely clinical rendition of tracks from both of the band’s full-length efforts.
Imarhan are part of a younger generation of Tuareg musicians keen to move out of the long shadow of desert blues pioneers, Tinariwen. Closely associated with the scene’s elder statesmen, Imarhan have stated their desire to show new aspects to Tuareg music and experience.
As school friends from the Southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset, the influence of their urban origin is evident in sound, style and presence. The band’s mix of Western fashions and traditional garments mirrors their combination of traditional forms with electrifying funk and rock influences.
Fittingly for a band whose live craft was honed playing desert parties around their home region, Imarhan’s stage presence is most comparable to that of a DJ. They give little acknowledgement to the audience beyond the odd handclap or wave. Initially the crowd take time to warm up, the whole gig still seeming to be in first gear. Though having grown from the sparse turn out who watched support act Port Erin fill the room’s empty spaces with their delicately crafted prog-noir, this is still an unsure crowd who’re sussing out the headliners.
Monday moods and end of summer chills are soon shaken off however, thumping
percussion shifts the room through the gears via first album single ‘Imarhan’, the crowd respond with swaying heads and rolling shoulders. Up-tempo tracks like ‘Ehad wa Dagh’
receive the biggest response from the crowd, anything slower unable to achieve the same level of kinetic appreciation.
The exception to this comes at the start of the band’s encore, initially only a percussionist and band leader Iyad Moussa Ben Abderahmane return to the stage for a more subdued number. The latter has stood out for much of the night, his note-perfect playing looming over his bandmates’ dense, rhythmic landscapes throughout.
Reducing their sound to such a vocalist-orientated focus is a risk for the band, given the language barrier between their music and the audience. This deconstruction of
the band’s sound, removing much of its rhythmic complexity, shifts focus to the interplay between vocal and guitar melodies. The moment fosters a real connection between band and audience, giving those a present a new perspective from which to appreciate Imarhan.
One by one, the full line up returns to the stage, reigniting the driving energy which has
underpinned much of the set. From here the party resumes, a raucous ‘Tahabort’ closes the set, speeding into a fast-paced, climactic finish. A band well suited to warming up festival tents, Imarhan send those present back outside well shaken from any start of the week slump.