Résistance by Songhoy Blues
Songhoy Blues are one of the most interesting bands on the scene at the moment. Consisting of Garba Touré, Aliou Touré and Oumar Touré, Songhoy Blues produce blues like few others on any scene. Under the intriguing banner of ‘desert punk’, the band members hail from Timbuktu, Mali. In 2012, civil conflict occurred in Mali and a Jihadist group named Ansar Dine imposed the ban of cigarettes, alcohol and music. As a guitarist, Garba Touré was forced to flee to the south of his country. Bearing no relation despite their shared surnames, Garba, Aliou and Oumar decided to form a band to allow fellow refugees to hear the music reminiscent of the north.
Garba claims that the band-members grew up listening to Hendrix and Hooker, but it’s clear that their sound has evolved. Progressive and transgressive, they lie somewhere beautiful between the world of Africa and the world of rock. Big fans of Songhoy Blues, we’d heard that their new album was scheduled for release last Friday.
Named ‘Résistance’, the album features rock legend Iggy Pop and UK grime artist Elf Kid. This came as a surprise to us, for not only are these names are so distanced from the kind of sound prominent in the band’s debut album ‘Born in Exile’, but the album is only two years old. It must have caused some serious traction in this time, because for Songhoy Blues to score with other such respectable artists in such a short space of time is wholly impressive. Furthermore, the album is controversial. The Malian music, punk and grime scenes are so alien from one another that it’s pretty much impossible to imagine how they might sound when they’re collated. Intrigued, we decided that a careful listen was well due.
The first track, ‘Voter’, is immediately exciting and fast-paced. And it gets faster as it continues. Catchy and and simple, the tune changes up several times. It’s all over the place and its variability brings the word ‘inconsistent’ to mind, but it remains oddly neat and tidy. The guitars fire out new notes by the dozen, but the soft vocal tones and rhythms keep them contained and pleasantly earthy. And this is reflective of the rest of the album.
This album does seem more adventurous than the debut album. With heavy electric guitars, the album is a bit more celebratory than the last, which is more sombre in comparison. This is an intentional move on the part of Songhoy Blues. The band aims to focus on the beauty and fun of life in Mali. Their debut album tackled matters of conflict and issues concerning the impact of Islamic Extremism. It seems that in ‘Résistance’, the freedom of music has cracked out and come to roost.
The band produces a completely new sound, moving further away from their original similarity to Ali Farka Touré. Garba Touré is the son of the late musician’s percussionist, and Songhoy’s songs are strongly marked by his influence. However, although it adopts the same hybridity as Ali Faka Touré, ‘Résistance’ shows Songhoy Blues truly coming into their own. The music of Mali meets alternative rock to unprecedented levels on most of the tracks. And the diversity between the tracks is great. Mid-album, ‘Dabari’ releases a burst of funk. Where Elf Kid jumps into the mix in ‘Mali Nord’, there’s no awkwardness. Instead the surfer track magically transforms in a split second. It weirdly becomes instantly fitting of UK hip-hop. It works extremely well, and could easily pass for the work of UK hip-hop collective High Focus. It might even supersede most of it.
So if you’re thinking about listening to ‘Résistance’, expect the unexpected. Expect electric guitars, expect tones of the West, expect diversity, expect some high energy, and expect some laid-back times in your back garden.
Songhoy Blues released ‘Résistance’ on the 16th of June, and are currently touring. They’ve hit up Manchester already, but they’ll be in London this Wednesday the 21st of June at Rough Trade East. Or, if you’re lucky enough to have tickets, you can catch them at Glastonbury Festival this weekend. If you can’t make either date, they’ll be back in the UK to blow your minds at the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia which runs from the 22nd to the 23rd of September this year. Further information is available on Skiddle here.
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