Album Review: Résistance, Songhoy Blues

Hugely uplifting LP from Mali desert punks.

When the militant Ansar Dine group took control of Northern Mali in early 2012, banning alcohol, cigarettes and music, guitarist Garba Touré moved south to the Malian capital, Bamako, where he hooked up with like-minded souls and fellow members of the Songhoy people, Aliou and Oumar Touré (none of them related), and started creating their own brand of desert blues. Initially making an impact on the Bamako club scene, they were part of the Damon Albarn-led Africa Express project in 2013, which saw them recording with Nick Zinner from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Zinner produced their debut album, 2015’s Music In Exile, and they were a big part of the 2015 documentary, They Will Have To Kill Us First, which saw a host of Malian musicians unite to organise a concert in Timbuktu, flouting the ban on music.

This sophomore effort was recorded at The Pool studio in London with producer Neil Comber (MIA, Django Django) and features guest vocals from the likes of Iggy Pop, Elf Kid and Stealing Sheep and synths from London electro newbie, Lxury.

While there are elements of the desert blues that characterise much of the music from Niger and Mali, echoing the yearning sound of Tinariwen or Bombino, there’s a punk sensibility at the heart of ‘Voter’, ‘Badji’ and ‘Ir Ma Sobay’. ‘Bamako’, meanwhile, is a full-on soul/funk revue, and the vital and vibrant ‘Dabari’ sounds like John Shaft (and Isaac Hayes) upped sticks and relocated to North Africa.

The beautiful ‘Hometown’ has elements of a southern American folk hymn, with beautiful fiddle flourishes. The desert fugue of ‘Sahara’ features the unmistakable voice of Iggy Pop, waxing hilariously about how there is no KFC amid the shifting sands, while South London grime MC Elf Kid adds urban noir to ‘Mali Nord’.

Résistance is one of the most uplifting, exhilarating and downright joyous albums I’ve heard all year, despite the fact that I generally haven’t a clue what they’re singing about.

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