32 Imzad

32 • An Imzad

Sahel, northern Mali, pre-1953
74 cm long; calabash, leather,
skin, horsehair, string

‘When Tara played the imzad, warriors flocked from the Shati, from the Tassili, from the Wadi Tarat, covering hundreds of miles on the backs of racing camels, spurred on by the hope of spending a single night in her arms. The poems written in her honour cannot be counted…her body was a mandolin and whoever played upon it remembered the melody for the rest of his life.’ Alberto Denti Di Pirajno, A Cure for Serpents (© Eland, 1985)

It may just have a single string but the imzad has been a centrepiece of Tuareg culture for centuries. Played exclusively by women – and for the most part made by them also – the imzad’s sound can be heard across Algeria, Mali and Niger as dusk sets in, accompanying traditional songs and poetry.

Imzads have long been a tool and symbol of female empowerment, players are highly respected and men risk a curse if they play the instrument. They also have a therapeutic function, said to be capable of alleviating the pain of the sick and driving away evil spirits.

The ultimate African nomadic object, they are replaced rather than fixed; old examples are extremely rare.

‘You can have nothing, but with Imzad you have honour, courage and bravery.’ Tuareg saying.