Imharhan Bring Their Hypnotically Intense, Relevant Malian Desert Rock Jams to Littlefield

by delarue

Timbuktu-based dusckcore band Imharhan differentiate themselves from the rest of their hypnotic desert brethren by way of frontman Mohammed Issa’s brightly incisive, even aggressive lead guitar style. Among practitioners of assouf, ie. so-called “desert blues,” Niger-born guitar star Bombino‘s work comes to mind. Imharhan also have an alter ego, Tartit, where the band, joined by a choir of women, transforms itself into an acoustic act playing ancient traditional tunes, the roots of Issa’s gleaming, guitar-fueled anthems. Imharhan’s latest album, Akal Warled (“Alien Land” in Tamasheq) is out, and they’re playing Littlefield at around 9 on March 23.

Issa’s distinctive, kinetic lines immediately take centerstage on the first number, Aicha Talamomt, ringing out with precise hammer-ons and sputtery but resonant accents over a snaky camelwalk groove. Although Imharhan’s music is typically hypnotic and reflective, this is one of the band’s more sonically adventurous, rock-oriented tracks: the rhythm guitarist plays through a wah pedal, and Issa’s crescendoing attack is as close to western stadium rock as you’ll ever find in this otherwise psychedelic, slinky style of music.

The album’s title track reflects on the angst of an exile, a bitter commentary on the ongoing civil war in Mali, but more animatedly than you might expect. It coalesces into a deceptively brisk shuffle that gets more careening as it goes on, winding up with a lushly intertwined twin-guitar duel that sounds almost like a bagpipe at full power. The following track, Amassakoul in Tenere is more terse, built around a wickedly catchy raga-ish guitar riff as it illustrates the life of a nomad, someone who was born to wander.

Ehala Damohele, a tribute to the resilience of women, works an amped-up, circular Tuareg folk theme. The matter-of-factly swaying Taliat Malat bears the most resemblance to current-day desert rock, as popularized by Tinariwen (who also happen to be in town, on March 23 and 24 at Brooklyn Bowl) and Etran Finatawa. Taliat Ta Silkjourout –  “beautiful girl across the oasis,” essentially – sets Issa’s long, soaring, subtly crescendoing lead lines over calm but bubbly polyrhythms, a hypnotic interweave of guitars, bass and percussion.

Tarha Tizar – meaning “love is the reason”- has a more insistent, purposeful, straight-ahead pulse: Issa clearly means business on this one. As he and the band do even more fervently on the album’s final track, Tidawt (Unity), which laments the state of the band’s native land, portrayed as a camel ripped to shreds by a jackal. Imharhan were one of the stars of last year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors festival, and their live show promises to be even more electrifying in Littlefield’s more intimate, sonically excellent space. As far as the album is concerned, where can you hear it online? Well, you basically can’t – although live versions of some of the tracks have made it to youtube, you’ll have to go to the show instead.