Zahra Mackaoui

The Imzad: Algeria’s Lute

CNN 'Inside Africa'

Women have long played the imzad in the matriarchal Tuareg communities of the Haggar and Tassili mountains of southern Algeria and the neighbouring desert regions of Niger and Mali. Tamanrasset, in the southern Sahara of Algeria, is the ‘home of the imzad’, a single-stringed violin only played by Tuareg women, who still have the exceptional power to divorce their partners.

In Tuareg tradition, the instrument used to accompany courtship meetings called "ahal” that would last long into the night. The songs were also composed as poetic or popular tributes glorifying the feats of the Tuareg warriors, known as the Blue men of the Sahara, due to their flowing blue robes. It is believed, however, that any man who plays the imzad, will suffer a curse. Until recently, only a handful of women still played the imzad in Algeria, which is made from half a gourd shell covered in animal skin, a wooden handle and a string of horse hair. But 83-year-old Khoulene Alamine, the custodian of this timeless tradition, is now teaching her art to younger generations of Tuareg women.

In this character-led documentary set against the dramatic desert landscapes, we visit the people who are helping to keep this ancient tradition alive, the connoisseurs, the women who continue to craft the instrument land the new generation who are being given the opportunity to defeat the harsh climate with a breeze of Imzad. UNESCO has stepped in to list the imzad as an intangible heritage of humanity.