Gig Review: Songhoy Blues @ Manchester Academy
How do you bottle verve and energy to pass it on to others? If you want a well-educated opinion then ask Malian four-piece group Songhoy Blues. It is impossible to resist the power and positive vibes that exude from the band onstage and they consider it one of the most important components of what they do, combined with an essential message – “Don’t let anyone tell you what to do or where to go in your life “. More on the significance of this message later.
Arriving to the powerful sounds of James Brown ‘The Boss‘, from the moment they step on stage Songhoy Blues instantly throw the gauntlet out to the crowd to join them in the musical celebration and frankly it’s non-negotiable. A tide consisting of throbbing baselines, intricate West African guitar, polyrhythmic drum beats washes over the crowd and at the centre of it all Aliou Toure – a man who fronts a band but performs like it is the greatest moment of his life every time he takes that stage. To say he is eye-catching and inspires a visceral response does his incredible energy a disservice.
To think this band were 3 months and 60 gigs into this particular leg of the tour and to see them eat up ‘Sahara’ announcing with bountiful energy “Let’s go to the desert!” is a true wonder to behold. This humble energy and positivity is also the perfect indicator of the quintuplet’s connection and respect for the people who support them and of whom have allowed the band to educate the world via music about Northern Mali and the plight of its creatives. Whilst Aliou whirls around the stage in unison with the intense beat, Nathanael Dembele, Garba and Oumar Toure create a musical trance inducing brew that everyone in the room partakes of. Looking around, you’d be shocked to see anyone not transported into Songhoy Blues’ world.
In the space of two albums, Songhoy have built a reputation for being impossible to pigeonhole and looking at the crowd they have an incredibly broad reach. All ages and types of people uncontrollably dance and smile as ‘Bamako’ blasts the room with sunshine and irresistible vigour. The vibrancy and palate of their music means that within the first few songs we have heard a culmination of funk, rock and roll, traditional Malian rhythms and blues delivered with a sparkle that makes me and everyone around my person’s mouth “wow” after each song ends. This continues until the very last note of the night and the raucous response from the crowd.
It’s hard not to be a confirmed musical fundamentalist after watching four people tied inextricably to the music (and going back to my message at the start of this review), four musicians who truly embody the fight for artistic freedom and repression currently being fought in Mali and elsewhere in the world and you could not find more incredible ambassadors for the adage ‘Music is life’.