Tag Archives: Glastonbury

Songhoy Blues – Nick : Mali Song of the Week

This week’s Song of the Week is a tale of two Nicks, inspired by the Songhoy Blues song. The band used the music video to showcase their fun and frolics from Glastonbury Festival last year. Getting a fantastic billing on the Pyramid Stage produced probably their most significant performance to date. The video – directed excellently by Connor Gilhooly with stunning videography – summarises a perfect Glastonbury experience. The long slog down some forgotten A-road, the sun, the drizzle, the standing-around-in-a-patch-of-muddy-gravelly-stuff. Charmingly, it encapsulates the bands personality entirely too. The unchanging fun, the sense of awe, the adventure; as if the world is the entertainer, not the other way around.

The video, somewhat ingeniously, captures one of the most important constants in the imagery of desert blues – travel. Or rather, to put it less romantically, transit. The latter preferred here as it alludes to that often cited monotonous, mesmerising, sometimes soporific, feature of getting from one place to the other as well as some of the more torpid examples of Malian blues. The song title here refers to Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner – the man behind the zest of Songhoy Blues’ break-through track ‘Soubour‘. Now many readers out there will know of another Nick, one whose legend puts him a close second behind Saint Nicolas in the list of ‘All Time Greatest Nicks’. For the last three decades or so primarily through his work with the World Circuit record label Nick Gold has been at the forefront of world music production, specialising in Cuban and West African music. Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabaté, Buena Vista Social Club, Oumou Sangaré all arrived in our eardrums in such exquisite form courtesy of Gold. Indeed you are still far more likely to hear a Malian song about him than any other Nick, with Ali Farka Toure and Toumani Diabaté having already made notable tributes.

That is not to say that this new Nick on the block is less worthy of praise, only newer, and different. After all, Songhoy Blues did write a song about him. As a musician first and foremost he can go toe-to-toe with Songhoy Blues and understand different things. Though relatively new to Mali music scene, Zinner is well travelled and has played with a whole host of different musicians. In an insightful interview Zinner comes across as characteristically relaxed. Like the band, he seems impregnable; unfazed by the hype that surrounds Africa Express and Songhoy Blues, explaining things as how they are and in so doing makes them so much more real. So much more astonishing.

Getting ever better, Songhoy Blues stand on the cusp of another career defining performance. Without Glastonbury’s ‘passing trade’ they have taken on full responsibility of filling the 2000-capacity Roundhouse in north London this Saturday (21st). They however do have some help from some friends in the form of the incredible Fatoumata Diawara, Blick Bassy, United Vibrations and a DJ set from Dave Okumu (The Invisible). Tickets are still on sale, allegedly, so before you act on the presumption that the only way into this gig would be smuggled within a calabash, perhaps check here first: http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2016/songhoy-blues/. See you there.


Songhoy Blues – Nick


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.

Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles : Mali Song of the Week

“Tu Voles”/”You fly” sings Rokia in this glorious opener to her 2016 album Né So. Where the album title itself means ‘home‘ this week’s Song means the opposite. “Home” is intended as “an invitation to think about the idea of ‘home'” and the privilege that comes with having one, whereas “Tu Voles” is about striving and escapism.

You fly, from every hurt, you release yourself, and you swim through the air, you fly…

Delving deeper; are the songs in fact on a similar theme? In both Traore encourages us to consider the plight of those that have no home and sings to us and imposes a character on us of a person so ill at ease, frightened, intimidated, troubled they resort to metaphor; they achieve that universal, impossible dream of humankind through force of will alone. This in a way is Traore’s trademark – using the beauty and vulnerability of “her raspy, quavering voice” to encourage empathy. Mark Hudson of The Telegraph notes that this must be a reflection of “the gravity” of her recent experience – and that of her homeland – noting that the album “is subdued, moody, even dark at times.” He continues;

“Since her last album, 2013’s buoyant and optimistic Beautiful Africa, she’s seen her homeland torn apart by a brutal civil war, including the recent Islamist atrocity in the capital Bamako, and has been beset by a more general sense of “things falling apart”.”

In her own way, Traoré has taken flight herself, with her artistry safely stowed in the overhead compartment. She like so many of Mali’s musicians has become a self-appointed ambassador for her country constantly flying worldwide to tell the rest of us what Mali is all about. To encourage the celebration of its beauty and understanding of its struggles. After taking up a very prestigious place on the Cannes Film Festival Main Jury last year, Traoré will be taking to the greatest stage of all this summer after being confirmed in the Glastonbury line-up – the festival continuing its marvellous support of Mali’s musicians. Malian’s have also been confirmed at a range of other festivals for example, Songhoy Blues have just completed a Tour in Australia and New Zealand, taking in those respective countries’s WOMAD festival. Back in the UK, WOMAD has yet to grace the shores of this soggy island in 2016, the festival scheduled for 28th-31st July. There French fiddle will meet Malian kora, percussion and vocals in the form of the exciting collaborative new-comers N’Diale.

So with the importance of her message evident here’s to hoping that Rokia is rewarded with one of the weekend’s precious “sunset slots” where the magic of the festival is unveiled in its entirety; liquid gold streaming around the summit of Glastonbury Tor, streaming down its sides, an image that defines the majesty of the place. Tens of thousands in a sun-soak crowd, basking in the immediacy of that fading moment before the giver of all life creeps away to brighten up a new day elsewhere on Earth.

Well, it’s that or it’ll be lashing it down with rain.



Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles


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.

Glastonbury Special: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Mali

Songhoy Blues at the end of their superb Sunday set. Photo credit: Songhoy Blues via Facebook

Glastonbury has come and gone; roaring past in a blink of a weekend and barely a wink of sleep. Apparently a wink is all it would take as Michael Eavis declared that the whole Festival ‘could go‘ forever, in an unlikely polarisation of popularity where the festival suddenly goes out of fashion. However, reassuringly, as the sun rose steadily and inevitably over the legendary, plastic-strewn fields of Worthy Farm, Eavis – now 79 and proudly sporting a gold cup for his herd of cows – stated that this year’s festival was the ‘best yet’ and wouldn’t be going anywhere, at least for a while.

Another super year for Glasto and another year where artists from Mali got serious billing – a huge sign of respect and solidarity that has occurred every year since music was banned in the country in 2012. After packing the stages with a impressive range of Malian guitarists, singer-songwriters, rockers, desert blues-ers and DJs in 2013, and repeating the effort with Toumani & Sidiki Diabate and Tinariwen a year later, it was now the turn of Songhoy Blues to fly the Green, Gold and Red in 2015. Instead of serenading ‘those sore Sunday lunchtime heads‘, as Andy Morgan assured Bassekou Kouyate would do two years previously, Songblues sand-blasted the sleep from the amassing crowd’s eyes with a set that stared down the rain and got the wellies thumping. In Pyramid stage tradition, lead guitarist Garba Toure gave the performance of his life with a mesmerising display equal to any of the greats that have graced the mighty platform previously.

Shortly after the set, I was lucky enough to catch up with lead singer a Aliou Touré and band manager Marc Antoine Moreau, who had both  kindly agreed to enter the fray to meet me. The first thing I noticed upon seeing him standing amongst throngs of festival-goers was that, unbelievably, Aliou’s suede shoes had not a speck of famous Glastonbury mud on them. “We found the right path!” they laugh, proudly. And proud they should be, as their successes in this country in particular seem to show no bounds. “The English people like their culture” Aliou suggests pointing to Britain’s great traditions in blues and rock music for an explanation for the bands popularity.

But there must be something more than this, surely? Something unique to explain the band’s exceptional rise? I start my enquiries with a discussion about the title of their new album Music in Exile. Marc explains: “It’s called Music in Exile because it’s their story, they fled from the north to the south, to Bamako, and now they go around the world to tell it.” Songhoy Blues are important ambassadors for educating the world in Mali’s horrible recent history. An important illustration of this appeared later when the band performed live for the BBC. Presenter and Radio DJ Mark Radcliffe would refer to the band’s story and rhetorically ask “who could you imagine suppressing the joy in that?” Its the quintessential reaction given by people all over the world; its empathy, comprehension in incomprehension. Whilst standing in these fields upon fields of music and artistic wonder their story challenges us to imagine it all ablaze, crushed, swept aside in a flurry of fire and flying metal.

But there is joy. Songhoy Blues are the youthful, defiant,  energetic and often hilarious alternative. They fit into the spirit of Glastonbury well. We discuss the album in more detail, particularly their song ‘Irganda‘ which means ‘our environment‘. Previously, I naively took to mean the very urgent, western phenomenons that involve things like reducing fuel consumption and reusing plastic bags. Aliou responds that Songhoy Blues’ sound is a mix between the traditional and modern and the song is actually ‘the environment’ in a more national sense. He is more than eager to provide his own view on green issues. He conveys that in Mali “it’s very different” for example “recycling, is very difficult, it’s not being used in Mali”. It is being eclipsed by the problems identified in the song: the lack of water, desertification, a problem which Aliou explains is exacerbated  by poverty. Malians have no option but to burn firewood – 6 million tonnes a year I discovered – to cook their food. “Every day they cut down trees. There are already not enough trees”. This rapidly increases the speed in which the Sahara advances. Aliou also mentions the issue of global warming and the particular vulnerability of Timbuktu – his hometown. Its near the river, yes, but also wrapped up by the ever-expanding desert. Its a very fragile eco-system in a very fragile political state.

We chat a little more, about Aliou’s favourite song on the album (its Al Hassidi Teri, by the way), about how it is to be away from Mali for so long (he explains, simply, that its not so bad as the world is an interesting place). Before long, its time to head off – the band have their performance on the BBC to attend and I was booked in for a cup of tea and a cake with my mum.

My conversation with them proved that Songhoy Blues and Glastonbury Festival are a natural fit. It was clear to me, and the sizeable crowd that saw them that day, that this was the just the beginning of the next chapter in something very special.


Songhoy Blues – Mali

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Kassé Mady Diabaté – Fununke Saya

As summer hots up so does excitement over the UK’s season of music and performing arts festivals. At two festival’s in particular – Glastonbury and Womad – it is cheering to see Malian musicians featuring prominently once more. However instead of concentrating on Hub favourites Songhoy Blues and Tinariwen (there will be plenty of time for this) instead we have a Hub début for Kassé Mady Diabaté.

Though apparently not a relation, Diabaté is similar in sound to Toumani Diabate. Indeed, as Youtube poster WitnessTheDivine writes, Toumani and Kassé have crossed paths on a several occasions, including on the Spanish Flamenco West African collaborative project Songhai where Kassé is credited as a vocalist alongside composer Toumani’s kora. Other featured big hitters are ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate and legendary producer Lucy Duran.  You can’t be half-bad if you keep such esteemed company.

Overwhelming is the temptation therefore to rush to Womad to see Kassé in action “under the stars”. A bio on the festival reads on:

“Of Kassé Mady’s most recent album, last year’s loudly applauded Kiriké, cultural review website The Arts Desk got it absolutely spot-on when they declared that it was “like sitting in a Bamako compound, late at night, under the stars, and being sung to, person to person”.”

Best way to see him ‘person to person’ this summer? See you at Womad!



Kassé Mady Diabaté – Fununke Saya