Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Petit Metier

They did it again. With barn-storming 5-star performances like the one at KOKO in Camden, north London last week, Songhoy Blues are amassing quite a following in the UK. Previous gigs have seen decent crowds and Glastonbury, though special, does benefit from a lot of ‘passing trade’. KOKO felt a bit different. A capacity sell-out (1,410) it surely wasn’t possible the crowd was entirely made up of retired international development workers and SOAS students. Songhoy Blues appeared to have crossed a void rarely managed by ‘world’ musicians to genuine mass appeal. Their charm, talent and compelling story has enchanted UK audiences. This performance, for me, was their best yet. The charged mood of the crowd was beyond that usual pre-performance expectation. They were excited and knew what was coming.

The focus this week is on the song ‘Petit Metier’ which literally translates from French as ‘small occuption/job’. The band use the phrase here to speak about the resisilence of ordinary Malian people. As the lyrics suggest “each one does his little job” in their own way. Its an emotive song, not the whirring and thumping pleasures found in the rest of their set, but instead it produced a humbling, reflective tone for a few minutes. The band are far from oblivious to the fact they are beyond mere witnesses to Mali’s troubles of recent years, but this song speaks to what they have seen. The glowing embers of their country, battling on.

Perhaps what the band are only just comphreneding the “little job” they are doing for their country. To stoke these flames. As are we, I suppose in supporting, witnessing, and enjoying their music. The nod to Ali Farka Toure by performing ‘Ai Du’ was a nod to history; one that tried to be erased a few years previously. Above all, Songhoy Blues’s current success of bringing in more people is resulting in more encouragement and endorsement for the decisions they made to rage against exile. The fight for basic freedoms is far from over in Mali and music a constant source of inspiration. As a crowd we willing return the favour; telling them that we’ve got their back. A collective sense of pride in the achievements of these four young Malian men.

The roar at the end of the gig was the usual request for more. A lot more. With a new album just around the corner and a gig at the Roundhouse in May with special guest Fatoumata Diawara there is plenty more to come.

 

Songhoy Blues – Petit Metier

 

Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

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