Tag Archives: Songhoy Blues

Fatoumata Diawara – Bakonoba : Mali Song of the Week

You may have noticed a slightly different look to this week’s Song of the Week. Only slight mind, and you may have noticed it’s a little shorter than usual too. This is because most of the time usually dedicated to producing a jolly bit of prose about music of Mali has been committed to clicking about under the Mali Interest Hub bonnet. The Hub is due a long overdue renovation to make room for all the capability we dreamed it would have.

So while that is all going on it is important not to lose sight of the real reason we are all here – to celebrate a country we love.  On Saturday evening Diawara supported Songhoy Blues at the Roundhouse and joined them for an unforgettable finale rendition of ‘Soubour’. Fatoumata Diawara gets pretty wild on stage. An already strong vocalist explodes into a hair-swinging lioness, thundering back and forth across the stage just to fill a 20 second instrumental. She provided the perfect send-off for this special evening with her infectious energy, her charisma combining well with the general coolness (but sometimes crazy) of Aliou Toure – lead singer of Songhoy Blues.

Diawara issued a clarion call for African women during her set, speaking emotively about the legacies of previous greats like Miriam Makeba and present day heroes like Angelique Kidjo. A symbol of strength and beauty herself, she encouraged everyone in attendance to empower the women of Africa for the sake of the continent and for peace and prosperity worldwide. Later, Aliou Toure would make a similarly impassioned speech, bringing the noise of a 2,000-strong crowd to silence, as he spoke about the need for solidarity with musicians and artists. Citing the massacre at the Bataclan, he reminded the audience that musicians, ever on the pulse of social and political expressions, were increasingly targeted by terrorists – not only in Africa, but now across the globe.

Then came a chance to really do something about it. Roaring “encore!” at Songhoy Blues had felt like enough previously; cheering support for this band that respresents the very essence of artistic defiance in this insecure world. The Music In Exile fund, coordinated by the Index on Censorship and supported wholly by Songhoy Blues, was the nominated charity for the evening. The money raised will fund scholarships for exiled musicians fleeing persecution. The hip-hop artist and political activist Serge Bambara (aka Smockey) is the first, and an undoubtably worthy, beneficiary of the scheme. He will be performing in London in July in an atmosphere that is bound to be as electric as Saturday’s.

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.

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.

Glastonbury Special: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Mali

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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

Songhoy Blues – Sekou Oumarou

Songhoy Blues are back in the UK, performing in Brighton last weekend and at the Village Underground in London on May 28th (sorry, it appears that it has already sold out). This is all part of the promotional tour following the release of their 5-star album ‘Music in Exile.’ The first three songs of the album have already appeared as Songs of the Week here on the Hub; it really is that good.

Here is the fourth in line; the albums rawest, most stripped-back example of desert blues. Rocking steady, the song always threatens to burst into life; in the same manner of the previous three songs. But instead it builds and rolls in that way that desert blues does best. Just as a characteristic guitar lick from Garba Touré moves into position and gets ready to burst into life, the three and a half minutes have expired – teasingly, hypnotically, the song is over.

 

Songhoy Blues – Sekou Oumarou

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Irganda

“We have only spent one month in Mali, in the last year” Oumar announced, half-proud half-exhausted. Such is the new life for Songhoy Blues, who have seen a non-stop rise in popularity, ever since their formation nearly three years ago.  It was over two years ago when Songhoy Blues first made their way onto the hub as Song of the Week and it was only 4 weeks after that which I was lucky enough to meet the band for the first time. It was a December full of first times for the boys of Songhoy Blues; their first trip to London for a start – the first adventure outside of Mali for most of them. Their journey included a first trip to the world famous recording studios of the BBC, a Europa League football game and even a trip to Primark. Of this list, there is one they have done many times since, another they’d love to do again and one which I can only presume they found as hilarious and traumatic as I did.

So it was on Monday 2nd February 2015, at the Oslo bar in Hackney, the four boys I knew bounded towards me as four well-travelled, wiser and ever-more talented young men. They spoke fondly of their experiences of India, France and Denmark, and their excitement for America – their next frontier. To prove to us how much they’ve learned they delivered a barn-storming performance. Front-man Aliou Touré had little trouble driving the packed crowd into a frenzy with his powerful vocals, call and response and his dazzling dancing. With the band in full, thumping flow they quickly proved TimeOut magazine’s prediction that would provide a performance that “set the room alight”.

Other than the brilliance of their performance, there were other very pleasing things about the evening. Despite their busy lives as professionals, their bright and unique characters had remained completely intact. They remain as ‘youthful, strong and fun‘ as ever. Similarly, the potency of what they believe in, why they started doing this, is burning brightly and spills eagerly into both performance and conversation. In addition, they appear to be supported excellently, infectious and appealing as the band’s music and message is. This week’s Song of  the Week is testament to this work – a single with  great energy and with a video capturing the band in Mali (for once). They are all collectively great ambassadors of the new Mali Songhoy Blues have come to represent. Four boys, from different ends of an often fractured country, refusing to let divisions get the better of them. When the going got tough, Songhoy Blues, like many Malian’s before them, reached for a guitar to help explain what’s really going on to the world and to help unite people back at home.

 

Songhoy Blues – Irganda

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Songhoy Blues – Al Hassidi Terei

As mentioned in a previous post, new kids on the block Songhoy Blues are back in the UK this week to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Right on queue, their new single – featured as this week’s Song of the Week – was announced on YouTube. The single, with a well constructed video, goes on sale December 8th, ahead of another short UK tour in early 2015.

Back in Mali there is good news – but no cause for complacency. The Ebola response currently under-way in the country is winning strong praise across the world. But its all still hangs in the balance. Comparing Mali to two different countries – Nigeria and Guinea – and how their governments and societies responded to the disease. The Nigerian government, despite having cases in many of its major, densely populated cities, got in control quick, dedicated resources and Nigerians took it up with urgency. Guinea, on the other hand, crumbled. As the New York Times reports:

“Luckily, rumours that the disease did not exist, or that Westerners started it to sell drugs, got little traction in Mali. But in Guinea, such beliefs crippled the response to the epidemic for weeks.”


Lucky indeed. It would be wrong, of course, to attribute the uptake of good hygiene practices and cooperative behaviour of everyday Malians to luck. However, as this article points out, in the Bamako eyes are were turned to Kayes, a town where tragically the 2 year old daughter of the Cisse family died of Ebola. For the community, the situation could have turned even worse  as the case was not reported to health authorities immediately. When the government did learn of the case they acted decisively:

“79 people who had contact with the girl are in quarantine, including 33 health workers. No warning signs were reported as of today. “At present, our country recorded a single case of Ebola on a total of 32 suspected cases,” said Minister of Health.”

Keep up the good work as its not time yet to uncross those fingers.

Songhoy Blues – Al Hassidi Terei

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba – Ladon (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)

Bassekou Kouyaté returns to the Hub again, this time with a live performance of the song ‘Ladon’ at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Its a great clip showing many of Mali’s traditional instruments and how they all work together. The density and layers to Kouyaté’s music is somewhat of a trademark. As is his band’s epic improvised sections. The studio/album version of ‘Ladon’ clocks in at 5 minutes 31 seconds. The live version? Almost twice that length. Another great feature, and perhaps a reflection of Bassekou’s generous and warm personality, is that every instrument gets a go in the lime-light. A particular highlight is the high-pitched, underarm Tama drum (or N’Tama, not to be confused with Tama drums). Its known as the “talking drum”  – presumably a nod to its ability to change pitch and its popular deployment in musician to audience ‘call-and-response’.

Next month, the Royal Albert Hall will be graced by Malian musicians once again as rising stars Songhoy Blues (pictured here chilling out in Bamako a few weeks agao) will be performing alongside Damon Albarn. This video by the BBC captures the two concurrent aspects of Songhoy Blues’s music – youthful, strong and fun but always with dark and troubling imagery. For a band that is busy shooting to stardom they still find it all to easy to recall Mali’s terrible recent past. A very emotional Aliou Toure is shown recalling the early days of the band and what they witnessed together as they fled south to Bamako during the conflict. Amid the violence and the artistic crack-down at the zenith of conflict in late 2012, Aliou describes their music as being “a much better sound than the cries of women”. He talks of a song called ‘Desert Melody’ encouraging the listener to take up the arts “instead of arms” in order to counter the hatred and warmongering. To push back against it and give something for people to rally around.

Above all, to create their music was to do something innately and historically Malian. Their music aims to be unifying and stand up for the values and ideas that were under attack. The ability of these young men to carry the weight of these themes and be articulate ambassadors for their country makes them more than fitting performers in the great Royal Albert Hall – something that Damon Albarn is more than aware of.

Anyway, have a look at the following video to see how its done.

 

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba – Ladon (Live at the Royal Albert Hall)