When Tinariwen first brought their style of desert blues to wider international attention nearly 20 years ago, they brought with them the powerful image of the Tuareg warrior riding into battle with his guitar strapped to his back.
This romantic, yet deadly vision helped give their music a mythic quality to western audiences – the nomadic people out of northern Africa fighting for their way of life.
While the likes of Tinariwen are still very much active, a younger generation of Tuareg musicians are emerging from the Saharan region – and foremost among them are Imarhan.
Musically, they take the template of their antecedents and intertwine them with a wider palette of influences to create new and entrancing fusions.
Percussionists flank the stage – one on a ‘regular’ drum kit, the other on the opposite side swaps between a djembe drum and the thumping bass of the hemispherical calabash.
Frontman Sadam Ag Ibrahim plays his spindly guitar lines over the dense and hypnotic grooves laid down by the rest of the band.
There are traces of post-punk and funk in there alongside those desert blues, and Sadam’s not opposed to whipping out a mean rock solo when the need arises.
More than one song builds to a galloping, driving climax.
There is no audience interaction beyond a polite: ‘Thank you,’ after each song, but it’s the kind of gig where between-song banter would seem incongruous - they let the music do the talking. And the modest audience is an attentive one, thankfully not marred by the noisy chatting so common at gigs these days.
This music is unlikely to ever trouble the mainstream, more’s the pity, but for those willing to try something new, they may just surprise you. You may not understand what they’re singing, but with music this powerful, it doesn’t matter.
The name Imarhan means ‘the ones who care about me,’ and now two albums in and with shows like this they are finding that people care far beyond Africa.