Songhoy Blues shows modern Mali music

Anno 2015 we see more and more African bands pop-up in the international charts. One of them is Songhoy Blues. Recently their debut album ‘Music in Exile’ earned them a spot on the Mojo50 charts, on the 7th place. Reasons enough to get to know this quartet from Mali.
Photo (c) Stephanie Free,
Photo (c) Stephanie Free,
In 2012 Islamic rebels gained power in the north of Mali and enforced strict Sharia making everyday life a lot harder. Schools were seperated, girls had to wear a djellaba, sports, art and music were forbidden. Reasons enough for many to leave to the south of Mali. As did Garba Touré. With his guitar, which to this day he still uses on stage, he took te bus to Bamaka. “It is very risky for people there to carry a guitar and play music. I always play the guitar, the same I use still and it is this guitar that changed my life” says Garba on why he left his hometown. In Bamako he luckily met some people who think alike and together with Aliou Touré, singer, Oumar Touré, bassist and drummer Nathanael Demebele he formed Songhoy Blues. Altough the surname implies the gentlemen are not related.
“Songhoy was a very big developed empire from around 1500’s” explains Oumar. “We want the show the world our culture, the stories of the Songhoy people”. And they succeed in that.
To give African artists a platform a couple of great names, among others Nick Zinner, Brian Eno, Damon Albarn and Stephen Budd, went to Mali for the Africa Express project, to record an album with local bands. Hundreds showed up for audition and Songhoy Blues was an astonishing discovery. Affectionately they were called the Boyband. They went into the studio with Nick, Marc-Antoine and Remy and recorded a song for the album. And that is not somthing the men are used to, “It was easy working with Nick, but aslo a bit difficult. It was our first time working in a studio. To play live with a sound loop, we didn’t know how it goes in a studio” says Aliou. “But working together with people like Nick and Marc-Antoine is easy”.
“We started playing that song in England and they liked it on the radio and then we invited them to come to London. The came to London and that was their first show outside of Africa as part of an Africa Express night. And that was the beginning of it” tells Stephen Budd. In the meantime Songhoy Blues had recorded an album ‘Music In Exile’ which is released in februari this year. Shortly the guys will go to Singapore and on to Hong-Kong, next year America, Australia, South-Africa and the surrounding countries. Their music is going global, but homebase is still Bamako.
Music In Exile
The record consists of songs sung in native tongue, even though the title might suggest otherwise. They describe what the men went through and what they had to endure te even be able to make music.
“It is about the rough situation in the north and now also in the south of Mali. That is what we want to tell the people and maybe someday there will be pease” says Oumar. Music connects, “how many will be here tonight, to listen to music? asks Aliou about the concert in Paradiso…
Maybe, one day they will sing in english, but that is something for the future. With a recorddeal in England it is a possibility but why would they. This is unique, fascinating and something that will appeal to many.
Photo’s (c) Stephanie Free,
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