Imarhan | Interview | New Album, ‘Aboogi’
Imarhan, meaning “the ones I care about,” are a Tuareg band from the Saharan Region of Southern Algeria. They play a unique blend of traditional Tuareg music blended with Pan-African rhythms and modern Pop and Rock sounds.
The style, known as “Assouf” or Desert Blues, is a growing movement in Northern Africa and has gained worldwide notoriety due to the increased recording and touring of bands such as Tinariwen, Bombino, and Mdou Moctar. Imarhan released their latest album, ‘Aboogi,’ at the beginning of 2022 and followed it up with a huge North American Tour from Desert Daze to Levitation Festival amongst a massively diverse group of musicians.
“Assouf is the blues of our region”
Who are the members of Imarhan and what instruments do you all play?
Sadam. I play the guitars and I sing, and everyone sings backing vocals too. Hicham plays the drums and the guitar. Kada the rhythmic guitar. Tahar the bass guitar and Haiballah plays the calabash and the djembe.
When and under what circumstances did the group form?
We grew up in the same neighbourhood in Tamanrasset, a city in the Hoggar Desert, very South in Algeria. The five of us went to the same school and we knew each other since we were kids. We were always playing and jamming together as every kid in Tam. Little by little, we created Imarhan in 2008.
The “Assouf” style is immediately recognizable but also diverse in the way different bands perform it. What is the Assouf scene like in the Sahara Region?
Assouf is the blues of our region; we sing traditional poetry with the tende drum as a rhythmic basis. The music combined with electric guitars is a whole phenomenon of the region but every locality will have its own particularity. The differences are in the accents or in the vocabulary used, depending on the history of the community and of its place. Even the rhythm of the tende is different from one place to another one.
There seems to be a lot of collaboration and overlap with the musicians. Is this an important element in Assouf?
Sure! It is a community with few famous artists, so we all know each other. However, there are more and more Tuareg artists becoming popular and it gives a lot of energy and heart to the younger musicians, which is great. We want our Assouf to keep on getting bigger and bigger. It should grow and become part of the most renowned international kinds of music.
I read that you recently built your own recording studio with intentions of using it to help Saharan musicians that would otherwise not have access to such equipment. Tell us a little bit about how this came to be and where it is going…
It was an intense wish to have our own recording studio in our desert so that we could record at home and feel our atmosphere, being at ease, not tired, with our elements, just home. There was no such professional recording studio in Tamanrasset while there are so many young talents playing music but with no means to travel to record in good conditions. Now we are very proud we can propose them to do so.
That is wonderful! You named your latest album ‘Aboogi’ after this new recording studio. How did your new studio affect the output that is this new album?
The album has the colours of Tam and you can feel the vibes of our city and our desert. The instrumentation is more acoustic but not exclusively. We recorded live and that’s how we always do. Our studio has a round shape such as the first houses that the Tuaregs built when they started to settle down in Tam. ‘Aboogi’ was actually what these houses were called.
Assouf seems to be getting increasingly popular. I first heard Tinariwen at the Levitation Festival and have since heard them on our local radio station, KUTX, as well as Bombino and yourselves. How have things changed for you in the last few years?
It’s great to see lots of Tuareg artists touring the world. It’s a great homage to our people and to our culture. We see there is a market for Tuareg music. Big international record labels sign Tuareg artists and it gives again lots of strength and hope to the younger generation.
You are currently wrapping up a big North American tour. How did you enjoy your time over here?
It’s a great experience! The country is huge and it is tiring to tour such a huge place but it’s a unique experience and we feel great and get a bigger and bigger reception. We like the American audience. They feel our music very easily, are focused, and get into it.
Are there any fun or interesting stories from the tour that you would like to share with us?
Actually, the very first show of the tour was an interesting one. At Desert Daze, we got hospitality food and I jumped on some candies and didn’t know they were not usual candies. I never experienced this before and it was my only time… I thought I would never go back to myself! Those candy effects tended to last for some hours.
Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. Last words are yours to share any message you would like to with readers of It’s Psychedelic Baby Magazine.
Tanimert. We do appreciate very much your interest in our music and we will keep on offering you new experiences of Assouf.
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Headline illustration: Justin Jackley