Songhoy Blues is a desert punk blues band from Mali. They were born out of civil unrest after being forced to leave their home of Timbuktu to escape conflict and Sharia Law.
In 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad took control of Northern Mali. Along with fear and war, this jihadist group also banned music, cigarettes and alcohol. After fleeing their homes, Songhoy Blues was created in the city of Bamako to “recreate that lost ambience of the North and make all the refugees relive those northern songs”.
Although already on the Bamako club scene, after auditioning in front of a group of American and European musicians and producers led by Damon Albarn, they released their first album ‘Music in Exile’. To me it feels like a peaceful protest album with its origins welded between Africa and the West. After all, their influences were a mix of Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, John Lee Hooker, hip hop and R&B. Here is the first song off this album. Seriously, who starts an album off with a riff like this and then continues it throughout the entire album!
‘Music in Exile’ never fails to remind me of my travels in Africa and always makes this non-dancer want to hit the dance floor. Imagine my happiness when a friend had two tickets to sell at London’s Somerset House. This is the perfect venue in many ways; it’s an intimate area with limited capacity, but the acoustics are awesome. Being in Central London, there is a timeless London feeling that only serves to accentuate the music.
The gig was understandably sold out which is impressive in itself. But for a group from Mali, formed during civil conflict and now playing the festival circuit and sell out London gigs, it is astounding. It is also not the type of accolade that simply falls into ones lap.
When Songhoy Blues took to the stage, a crowd showed their appreciation with sea of clapping hands, whistles and cheers. They wasted no time in assuming their positions on stage and opening with Jolie.
Naturally, not understanding a word, they only have the beat and a stage presence to communicate. Lead singer Aliou Touré was quick to whip the audience into dancing and asserting his space on stage. They took me on a musical journey through their first album, as well as their latest ‘Résistance’. Song after song, interjected with banter took us through the 1.5 hour set.
For anyone thinking this is our typical African music, here is a quote from the lead singer:
”So much of what people hear about Africa is negative; bad news stories about war and famine just dominate the common image of Africa,” Touré said of the song. “But this track is about dispelling that image by describing something everyone can relate to — going out on a Saturday night — to show that Africa isn’t just what people see in the news, there’s so much more to it than that.”
This may not be the best copy, but it gives you an idea of just how brilliant this band is to see live. If you have the chance, don’t pass it up!