Sahara Territory


The imzad is an one-stringed fiddle that is an icon of targui society, an instrument that is played only by women. In the past times, only women of the noble or the vassal tribes were permitted to play the imzad, but today the strict rules of traditional targui society are in abandon, and any female musician can teach the instrument to any woman who so desires. The imzad is made from half a calabash or from a wooden bowl that is covered in goatskin and to which is attached a neck that supports one string of horsehair. The skin of the imzad is often decorated with symbols or covered with tifinagh inscriptions indicating the owner’s name; sometimes the surface also carries verses written by an admirer.

The imzad players were greatly renowned and could play many melodies, those evoking past events or the high deeds of a hero whose name they bore by the richness of their variations. They could also accompany a man’s singing and sometimes display therapeutic powers by curing melancholy and apathy. Good players of the imzad are today becoming rarer and its repertoire is inexorably becoming smaller. Women play the imzad while seated, with the instrument resting on her knees, with her left hand holding the tabourit and pressing the aziou. The right hand holds the tadjaihé perpendicular to the string. The flexible action of the hand, together with variable light pressure on the string, are the fundamental elements in producing the musical notes.

No other instrument accompanies the imzad. It can be accompanied by hand-clapping or a solo voice reciting poems. Exceptionally, it can be accompanied by two voices; in such duets, the singing is sometimes mixed (man and woman), sometimes man only. The music accompanies the women in entertainment meetings or when they move their flocks to new pastures.

Playing the imzad. Playing the imzad.

Playing the imzad.

The images below show a set of instruments made in Egypt. These types of instruments are of arabic origin and were introduced along northern Africa, from Egypt to Morocco.

The left image shows two tambourines (duff) and a tambourine with cymbals (riqq); this set of tambourines is from Cairo. The right image shows an oboe (mizmar) from Cairo, a rebec (rabab) from Upper Egypt, a lyre without plugs (tunbur) from Nubia and a lyre with plugs (simsimiyya) from the Nile delta. The rebec is played by the performer while sitting on the ground.

Tambourines made in Egypt. An oboe, a rebec and two zithers made in Egypt.


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