Festival preview: Songhoy Blues
Songhoy Blues were born out of conflict and exile. As they head back to these shores, we sing the praises of this powerful and rhythmic group
This article is from 2015.
Returning to Scotland after two triumphant shows at January’s Celtic Connections, Mali’s Songhoy Blues head up the Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival’s new talent Firsts strand. Their energetic take on the desert blues of the great Ali Farka Touré has resulted in them winning over rock and indie fans as well as world music aficionados.
The band members hail from the Songhoy region on the banks of the Niger, where they grew up listening to hip hop, Hendrix and traditional West African music. Following the armed takeover of the region by Islamist jihadists in 2012, the musicians and their families fled to Malian capital of Bamako. While there, bassist Oumar Touré and singer Aliou Touré met guitarist Garba Touré. ‘We told ourselves we couldn’t just stay shipwrecked by a crisis like this,’ recalls Garba Touré. ‘We had to form a band.’ With the addition of drummer Nathanial ‘Nat’ Dembele, Songhoy Blues were born.
Having come to the attention of Amadou & Mariam’s manager Marc-Antoine Moreau, Songhoy Blues took part in the Africa Express project, leading to a collaboration with Nick Zinner of New York art-rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the blazing ‘Soubour’. The band’s debut album Music in Exile, produced by Moreau and Zinner, emerged in February this year on British indie label Transgressive.
The single ‘Al Hassidi Terei’ encapsulates their sound, opening with a stirring harmonised chorus before kicking into an edgy syncopated shuffle, all smouldering guitars and driving percussion. The upbeat ‘Ai Tchere Bele’ and the John Lee Hooker chug of ‘Nick’ are sure to set dancefloors ablaze, while acoustic numbers like ‘Mali’ and ‘Petit Metier’ show a more reflective side to the band. With their blazing guitars, powerful rhythms and strong melodies, Songhoy Blues are one of the most exciting live acts around.
Songhoy Blues, Spiegeltent, St Andrew Square, 0131 473 2000, 22 Jul, 7.30pm, £18.