Interview: African Blues Band Imarhan talk Life in Algeria
city guide

Imarhan are a young 5-piece from Tamanrasset, an oasis city in southern Algeria, who have taken up the mantle of regional legends Tinariwen and continue in the exciting African desert blues tradition.

Since the release of their debut self-titled album in 2016, Imarhan have garnered significant critical acclaim from the international music press, and have since toured the world, bringing their modern take on desert blues to stages around the globe.  Today they shared the video for “Tamudre” from the upcoming documentary film Children of Tam.

We got in touch with Imarhan to learn a thing or two about the oasis they call home, the Taureg culture from which they come, and the Saharan landscape that surrounds their city and inspires their art.

What is your favorite restaurant in Tamanrasset? What’s your order?
Our favorite restaurant in Tamanrasset is Abogie…  Abogie is our place… for rehearsing, jamming, chilling, playing dominos, meeting with our friends… It’s a kind of hut we built ourselves. It’s made of a mix of different materials: bricks, leather, and palm tree wood.  What we order? We cook ourselves for the friends: Tagila and méchoui. Tagila is a special bread that Tuaregs always cook, it’s a mixture of semolina and water, a bit of salt. You have to mix it a very long time, until the batter is dense. You light a fire on a clean sand (there shouldn’t be any stones). You need to wait up [until] the sand is very, very warm.  Then you put the batter under the sand, and cook it around 30 minutes each side. Méchoui is grilled meat on the coal: sheep, lamb chops…

We cook this not every day, because it takes time, but once a week is the minimum!

What is your favorite bar and why? What’s your drink order?
Our favorite bar in Tamanrasset is… Abogie! Where we cook our tea.  We also like to go by our friend Alger, his tea is very popular in Tamanrasset, the taste is always good.  Every evening I pass by his place to get the three Tuareg teas: the first one is very strong, the second and third ones are more sweet, they have more sugar and mint. I love going to my friend Jimmy also, where I buy she-camel milk.

What is your favorite coffee shop?
It’s quite rare to drink coffee in Tamanrasset, we mostly drink the tea.

What are some underrated buildings or landmarks you love and why?
My first school when I was a child. I have tons of memories there. It’s a small and beautiful building, when I was a child I thought it was big but now I realize it is very small. There is also the big park called Tapsit. It used to be the place of a traditional festival with camel races, with women playing Tinde… It doesn’t exist anymore, since 2000. But what remain are the walls of the place who are now used for a market. What remain are the walls and the memories.

Where would you recommend visitors to Tamanrasset stay?
You shouldn’t go to a hotel but go to the desert and sleep in the desert! You should do a bivouac, sleep outside, where the number of stars are unlimited!!

Where do you see the best shows in Tamanrasset?
The best shows you will catch in Tamanrasset are the weddings. Every wedding is very special, every place always different. People are natural, easy, different. Weddings mix the music, the dances, the dresses. 

Organizers and audience are the same people, it’s popular moments. There aren’t any sound check, there isn’t any good gear, but everyone is happy!

What is your favorite boutique in Tamanrasset?
My friend Salah’s boutique. Because I can get absolutely everything I need for my everyday life, from my shampoo to gear for my house construction works.

What’s the most inspiring outdoor space in or around Tamanrasset?
All the desert. Once you are in the desert, it’s all different, each place will make you forget about another. It’s beautiful, it’s quiet, and you can breathe.

If someone only had 24 hours in your city, what would you recommend they see and do?
You would have to make and drink the tea with Tuareg people and listen to their stories. That’s the very minimum. But 24hrs is not enough for Tamanrasset.

Do you draw inspiration from your city and if so, how does it inform your music?
That’s for sure. It depends on the songs but most of them we sing about places of Tamanrasset, about our community, about the personalities of our people, about their thoughts, about their ambitions and wishes…

Be sure to check out their newest album Temet, out February 23 on City Slang. 

photo by: Andrea Mae Perez; background NASA Johnson/Flickr