- 26 Nov 17
'World Music' In The Truest Sense of the Words. Pat Carty Reports.
You might think your band were having a few problems when you couldn’t get your one from Sweeney’s to return your phone calls but it could have been worse, you could be a musician from Mali. I’ve written previously about Tinariwen, and Songhoy Blues have had a similar troubled path. The militant Islamic group, Ansar Dine (“defenders of the faith”), took control of the northern region of the country around 2012. Under this group, alcohol, cigarettes, and music – anything fun in general, it would seem – were all banned. Aliou Touré (vocals), Garba Touré (guitar), and Oumar Touré (bass) (not related) were all involved in music before the imposition of Sharia law in Goa and Timbuktu (about 200 miles apart). Along with many others, they moved south to the Malian capital, Bamako, where they met up with drummer Nathanael Dembélé, forming Songhoy Blues, named for the Songhai ethnic group from which they came. Their aim was to allow, “refugees relive those northern songs”.
As their popularity grew in Bamako, Marc-Antoine Moreau, head of Africa Express, a company set up with the aim of promoting African music and culture in the west, perhaps best known through the patronage of Damon Albarn, saw them play and found a spot for them on 2013’s Maison De Jeunes compilation. This in turn led to working with the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner on their debut album, the appropriately titled Music In Exile (2015). Critical acclaim was instant, and they haven’t looked back since, touring constantly, including Body & Soul appearances here. Earlier this year saw the release of their second album, Résistance, which built on the infectious combination of desert blues and lethal groove that made the first record such a delight. It features highly in most end of year best of lists, including Hot Press’ Folk Albums of the year recommendations.
All of which brings us to a packed Button Factory on a bloody freezing night in Dublin. All grumblings about the inclement conditions are instantly dispelled once the sparkling opening bars of ‘Alhakou’ hit the air. The lolloping groove has an instant effect on those present; try as you might, remaining stationary is not an option. The audience – not as many hipsters as you might have expected, although there’s still more moustaches than a musketeer movie – get down and stay there for the duration. One bloke in front of me dances like he’s in the greeting party for a Queen Elizabeth colonial visit, and never lets up for the evening, fair play to him. ‘Aitchere Belle’ begins with a guitar line that’s pure Ali Farka Touré before the hypnotic groove kicks in, prompting Aliou Touré to break into some freaky dancing that makes Bez look like someone recuperating from a serious illness. Touré then invites us all to visit Mali before launching into ‘Sahara’. On record, this features the slightly incongruous presence on of one Iggy Pop, but, if anything, it’s more effective here, without him. ‘One Colour’ is introduced by way of an explanation of how difficult international travel has become if you happen to be African, but the joyful way the song’s message of togetherness is delivered proves the effort made is worth it. It sways with an almost Jamaican lilt.