Review: Songhoy Blues

Music In Exile
March 3, 2015

If ever there was a band with a good formation story, it’s Songhoy Blues. Formed on the streets of Diré, a town on the banks of the Nile in French-speaking Mali, the band’s four members were forced to flee their homes when armed jihadists overtook the north of the country.

“They ordered people to stop smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and playing music. Even though I don’t smoke or drink, I love the guitar, so I thought: ‘This isn’t the moment to hang around. I have to go south,’” guitarist Garba Touré told The Guardian.

And now, after being picked up by Africa Express, comes their triumphant début album, a creation of music against all odds – and it sounds really, truly joyful.

Though very folky and drawing heavily upon African tradition, there’s a modernity to the album which makes it sophisticated, timely and kind of universal – inspired, possibly by childhoods filled with Hendrix and John Lee Hooker. The whole album is catchy, its handclaps and chanted backing vocals impossible to resist.

Produced by Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and coming just months after supporting Damon Albarn at his Royal Albert Hall gigs last year, the album’s a signal of an incredibly bright future for four young men who, only a couple of years ago, were fleeing a jihadi group who threatened to cut their hands off if they were caught playing music.

‘Music In Exile’ is out now via (Transgressive Records)

Listen: Songhoy Blues – Irganda