Songhoy Blues at Koko
Forced to flee the land of the Songhoy people in Northern Mali when militant jihadists took control of the area in 2012 and ordered a ban on the playing of music, guitarist Garba Touré established Songhoy Blues to entertain fellow refugees in the southern city of Bamako. Their gigs proved so popular as to unite people from opposite sides of the country’s recent catastrophic civil war and defy the totalitarianism and violence of their leaders. In spite of all the pain in their background, the blues that Touré’s band brings to Koko’s opulent dancehall tonight comes with a broad smile on its face and an instantly infectious shake in its hips. The result is a life-affirming celebration of the redemptive power of music, and a giant dance party.
For the most part it’s a trademark blend of slinky harmonic blues riffs from Touré’s guitar and bounding West African rhythms that drives the sell-out crowd in their collective rug-cutting, as with the soulful stomp of Al Hassidi Terei and the funkadelic Irganda. It’s a sound at once familiar and mysterious, imbued both with the mud of the Mississippi Delta and the dust of the ancient Sahara. More contemporary influences are also brought to bear during the frenetic 90-minute set: Soubour’s relentless R&B hook rattles along atop an indie pop jangle, which is fitting, since it was written in collaboration with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (who also co-produced new LP Music in Exile).
The set is closed out with an encore comprising a selection of tunes chosen with strategic intention of bringing the house down. Mali echoes with a mixture of pride and anguish, an ode to the band’s complex relationship with their beautiful but troubled homeland. You can hear a pin drop in the gaps between Aliou Touré’s haunting lyric. With dancing muscles rested and recharged, it’s with a renewed and wholehearted energy that the audience lend rapturous movement to a cathartic finale in which Al Hassidi Terei is reprised with more frenzied tempo ahead of Nick’s low-slung party boogie. Frontman Touré instructs those assembled to get a good night’s sleep in order to rise refreshed and ready to earn the necessary funds for tickets to the band’s return to London (next May, up the road at the Roundhouse). For those in the sweaty, beaming throng that then floods out into the night, this seems a fine plan.
Photo: Dave Hazeldean
For further information about Songhoy Blues and future events visit here.
Watch the video for Al Hassidi Terei here: