African Music: Songhoy Blues (Mali)

African Music: Songhoy Blues (Mali)

Meet Songhoy Blues, a north Malian blues-rock quartet whose influences span from contemporary rock to more traditional-sounding Malian folk music. This foursome is unique to say the least, and groundbreaking, heart-stopping, toe-tapping, finger-clicking, body-popping at its best.

The story of their formation brings joy to the listener and reaffirms that sometimes out of hardship and sadness can come beauty. The band was formed in retaliation to Islamic extremists banning music in their home town of Timbuktu. The band members, brothers Oumar Toure and Aliou Toure along with Garba Toure and drummer  Nathanial ‘Nat’ Dembele are Songhoy people, a resilient local ethnic group whom faced years of oppression from the stronger Bambara people of the south. Once trouble arrived in their hometown, they fled to the Malian capital, Bamako with their families. And it was there while studying at university, they found a creative output for their fears, their struggles and the emotions born from it. They filled every single note of music with their hopes and pride in their heritage and culture. They took it to the streets, playing regularly on the Bamako music circuit.

  “We met up (in Bamako),” remembers Garba, “and told ourselves we couldn’t just stay shipwrecked by a crisis like this. We had to form a band.”

The band’s big break came in September 2013 when their reputation preceded them and they were asked to play on Damon Albarn’s Africa Express albums. They wrote a hit track with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and all ears were on them.

Their debut Africa-blues-rock album, Music in Exile, has been produced by Zinner and also features backing vocals from Damon Albarn, himself. They are currently touring Europe and tour dates can be found on their website, here. Below is the video to Irganda, a song about the effects of global warming. We dare you not to dance to it!

The band will also be appearing in a new documentary about Malian musicians and their fight against the oppression they face from the extremists in their country. To ban music in a country such as Mali where music is sewn intricately into the tapestry of their history is  to ask them to erase their souls. Check out the trailer for They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music In Exile, below.

photo credit: radio Milwaukee


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