Songhoy Blues: Live Review

Live In New York City

Born out of political chaos, Songhoy Blues’ music preaches joy, Malian cultural heritage and passion for the blues. The invasion of Islamic militants in northern Mali in 2012 had the band fleeing their homes to Bamako where the young musicians, Oumar and Aliou Toure met guitarist Garba Toure. “We couldn’t just stay shipwrecked by a crisis like this. We had to form a band,” states Garba. Nat Dembele then joined on drums to complete the quartet.

What makes Songhoy Blues unique is their eclectic blend of western blues-rock with traditional Malian music. Wide-ranging influences from Ali Farka Toure with regionalSonghai tradition, to Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles have all been used by Songhoy Blues to create true world music. Word has spread fast about the promising young group that has recently opened for both Damon Albarn (Blur, Gorillaz) and the Alabama Shakes. One can expect to see David Byrne (Talking Heads) and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), who produced the act, grooving along to their live sets.

Art comes first and foremost for Songhoy Blues, who display the joy and uniting power music can bring in trying circumstances. They have recently taken their music to Britain and the United States in an effort to spread the music of Mali to a wider audience. “Everyone knows America,” said singer Aliou Toure to a live audience in NYC. “So then Americans must know everyone.” Songhoy Blues’s promotion of cultural understanding is key to a band created as the Mujahidin banned western music from being played on north Mali Radio. “They see music in your phone — they take it away and break it. They see you with an instrument in your hands — they break it,” Toure explains. Their story was captured in the recent must-see documentary ‘They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile’.

In 2014, Songhoy Blues released their ‘Music In Exile’ to critical acclaim. Their recent New York City debut saw them turning cynical New Yorkers in a grungy Lower East Side bar into ecstatic dancers exhibiting the spirit exuded by the members of Songhoy Blues. Their music not only spreads rich Malian musical tradition but brings a much-needed breath of fresh air into the blues tradition. Garba Toure’s guitar lines provide not only strong melodies, but also virtuosity and technique. Frontman Aliou’s dance moves are infectious and the rhythm section is as tight as can be. Songhoy Blues are a must-see act this summer. Check out their website for further tour dates and LP purchase.

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