Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Track of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Soubour

This week’s track of the week heralds the return of the Africa Express – a collective of African and world musicians led by Damon Albarn. No longer a project of one-off festival performances or extraordinary, train-commandeering super tours but now in the form of a début album entitled “Maison Des Jeunes” which was recorded in Mali in October in just 7 days.

On the Africa Express website it is explained that “Africa Express musicians and producers set up a temporary studio in a city youth club and worked with a new wave of contemporary Malian musicians to complete the album in one week. The club, situated on the banks of the Niger river and known locally as Maison Des Jeunes, became the venue for a week of discovery, collaboration, music-making and live performances.”  With them was a BBC crew that captured the magic as it unfolded, documenting the creative industry of up-and-coming Malian talents working alongside some world greats like Brian Eno and Salif Keita. Since mid-October the BBC have produced two decent reports into how the Africa Express’s arrival serves as a significant milestone for the regeneration of Mali’s music scene in the wake of the conflict.

This week’s track is the result of a collaboration between Timbuktu indie band Songhoy Blues and Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner. In their first ever studio session they produced the track ‘Soubour’ and if this racy, adolescent stormer is anything to go by, the rest of the album will be a treat – just check out the list of other contributors.

So, as the place to record its first album, why did the Africa Express choose Mali? For many it is about solidarity. In recognition of the enormous strife that has afflicted Mali’s creative industries over the past two years many foreign artists have been driven by a sense of duty to revive it. For Malian artists it is a home-coming parade of sorts. Many, like legendary Malian guitarist Afel Boucum, thought he would never return to his homeland.

Same is the story for Songhoy Blues. They formed in response to the occupation that saw secular music banned. But the confidence oozing from a commanding riff like the one in ‘Soubour’ suggests that their contribution to Maison des Jeunes is something more than a celebration. It suggests gusty defiance and pride in the fact that they, with many others, stood up and fought their own battle for Mali’s and its music – and won.

Songhoy Blues – Soubour



There will be a “Maison De Jeunes” launch party in East London on the 9th of December. Should be one for any music-lovers diary. For information and tickets see: Hope to see you there.

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