Songhoy Blues - the lost sounds of Mali, found


The theme of the evening was liberty. The name of the band, Songhoy Blues. We're at Momo's. I'm sitting on a stool, right at the front of the stage. My head's pulled towards the 4 men on stage, eagerly anticipating the familiar sounds of Malian music, familiar to my ears as it was part of my environment in Cote D'Ivoire. I am transfixed as soon as the band begins to play. Aliou, the band's lead singer recites a quick one sentence prayer, giving praise to God as he and member of the audience begin to instantaneously move to the music . 'Allahu Akbar' I hear him say. I translate its literal meaning mentally, utter it back because right at that moment, it was imperative that I too gave thanks for the opportunity to witness, an inspiring group of young men play their music, finally exercising their freedom of speech - something that they were denied due to the political situation in their native Mali where music, drinking and smoking was censored by Ansar Dine [ meaning "followers of the faith"]. This censorship led the boys to flee their town and to meet in the city of Bamako where they met Africa Express' Marc-Antoine Moreau, who auditioned them, then introduced them to Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with whom they collaborated on 'Soubour' - a track they'd performed on that evening.

Their performance was introduced by a manifesto of liberty delivered, by Ali, the band's lead singer:

...the worst that we have survived is war. This war almost deprived us of this freedom of expression that we have in us. We are here this evening because of the message we have to transmit to all who look to support our suffering  people because, music is one of the most beautiful story given by God on earth. Music is a beautiful thing. It is music that nourishes love. Without music, life is nothing. Imagine for a little bit what would happen if music was to be censored in London, [imagine] the effect that it'll give.  We are not free to go back to our home, we were prevented from going back because we did not have the right to exercise our freedom of speech.  We were prevented from playing our music in our own home. This war worked out in our favour as we fled the arms to find each other in Bamako, me, Ali Touré, Gabar Touré, Omar Touré and Nathanael Dembélé. Together we decided to carry this message and raise the flame of peace.

A perfect and moving introduction to the Malian and eclectic fusion of sounds like 'Aidou', 'Petit Metier' and their first recorded sound 'Soubour' followed suit and the audience revelled in their performances, requesting an encore  which unfortunately wasn't given...maybe next time! The band's lyrics though in a foreign dialect possessed a call-to-action message of peace. It was truly an experience to be re-experienced.

The band have recently signed to Transgressive Records, home of the Noisettes. They will also feature heavily in a new documentary feature: "They Will Have To Kill Us First" which will premier at SXSW 2015.

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