Imarhan | Night & Day Cafe | Manchester: August 6th

The Night & Day café looks like a cross between Cheers and the red-lit and threatening open-mic nights from every country music biopic. Throughout the decade I’ve been coming in here, it’s never changed. A while back it obviously made a series of personal and aesthetic decisions and stuck to them. While bars across Manchester have periodically changed their identity with the kind of clawing desperation that Chris Martin would find undignified, Night & Day have just got on with it.

Formed in 2006, the Algerian band Imarhan have clearly followed a similarly principled path. Barring their bassist Tahar Khaldi – who wears a Fender t-shirt and jeans on this occasion – they wear traditional Tuareg dress, percussionist Haliballah Akhamouk with added tagelmust. You would think this might be seen as folksy and prelapsarian by a music public by now so jaded by affected musicians. It can, after all, get tiring, never being sure whether to laugh at some apparent in-joke or stroke your beard and nod. However there’s no such worry with Imarhan, because their music – and approach to it – is simple and honest in the way that all the best things are.

Their more meditative – even mournful – songs make me want to drop my phone in my pint and wander the earth like Jules Winnfield. Then a song like their eponymous and electrifying anthem ‘Imarhan’ will start, guitarists Abdelkader Ourzig and frontman Sadam Ag Ibrahim send a raw fervour through the crowd, and I would be fishing my phone out, wringing it dry and arranging an impromptu night out. Their music does that to you, a rare joy that makes you feel rather than think.

In a way it’s easier to talk about their music through allusions to Pulp Fiction than it is to try and painstakingly depict it. Not only am I woefully illiterate and unqualified in the variations and splintering styles of Tuareg music, to try to render it perfectly in words is to miss the point. Everyone here seems happy. There’s no pretence, no happening, no guitar-tuning spiels about how shit the world outside is, just a very good band playing very well, and a full crowd that are pleased they’re here.

The songs are obviously paramount, but the band are in no way anonymous. Each of them seems to radiate a singular personality and sense of individual cool, much like – at one time, anyway – The Strokes. The comparison might seem cheap, but for a band formed when the star of Casablancas et al was just beginning to fade, they took the best of the fabled ‘five man band’ dynamic and made it their own.

Sadam, an excellent guitarist, is undoubtedly a frontman, slightly aloof and magnetic, also possessing the not necessary but helpful attribute of being handsome. Guitarist Ourzig plays rhythm like Keith Richards plays rhythm; with an unflappable sense of the song’s core and an ear for unshowy flare. Bassist Khaldi is the coolest of them in the way that capos in mob dramas are, inscrutable but intriguing, and pulls off a Fender t-shirt like no English roadie has ever managed. Alongside Akhamouk, fellow percussionist Hicham Bouhasse plays a calabash – what looks like a drinks globe and sounds better than any drum kit. The two players’ astounding command of a variety of percussive instruments shows them as the engine room of the band, and the force that drives this crowd through initial English diffidence into joyous movement.

Much like the venue they find themselves in, Imarhan clearly made a series of simple decisions early on and stuck to them, improving and honing a personal style over the years. Because of this, they can simply carry on doing their own thing, and I’m excited to see how it blossoms.

by David Adamson

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