Music in Exile
23 Feb 2015
When you’re exiled to another nation, how does one express the plight of both yourself and your fellow countrymen? Simple, through one of the few universal languages there are: Music. At least, this is the thought behind the members of Songhoy Blues, which consists of Malian refugees, forced into exile by religious radicals, who overran their homes in Gao, in the north of the country. Finding safety in Bamako, the quartet banded together, and, after a period of lucrative fan-building, they have released this.
Kicking off the affair is the slow desert riff of Soubour, which quickly evolves into a series of virulent grooves, and sing-along vocals. The result is infectious, and easily matches the best of what the Palm Desert has to offer. In quick succession comes Irganda, a deeply funky dance-floor number with a fantastic guitar solo that evokes memories of John Lee Hooker.
Ai Tchere Beli is a lightning fast workout, with rapid-fire drums and snappy arpeggios that come together to create a sense of urgency that most bands could only dream of. However, it is not just all rhythmic R&B numbers. Petit Metier is a gentle acoustic work-song, which evolves slowly into a haunting piece of political protest, filled with samples and atmospheric organ. Likewise, Mali is a poignant tribute to their eponymous homeland. A triumph of simplicity, its mix of simple guitar riffs and haunted vocals creates a moving atmosphere, that reaches out past the language barrier to bring the images of their nations suffering directly to your heart.
THIS IS A TREATISE OF TRIUMPH IN THE FACE OF DISADVANTAGE
The roots of the music on this album arrive from the party. They are sounds to drown your sorrows to, and look towards a brighter future. Indeed, were it not for a lyric sheet, you’d be hard-pressed to realise that many of these were songs of torment and exile. One is reminded of Paul Simon’s The Boy in the Bubble, another song with a cheery and upbeat rhythm accompanied by lyrics filled with terror.
The tactic works. The polarity that exists between the music and the lyrics leads to curiosity, and pretty soon you’re drawn into an understanding of just why they have written these songs. What we have here is an album that bleeds the blues, but its origin clearly and firmly lies with the culture of the Songhai, granting it an identity unique to its own. It easily provides all of the standard Desert-Rock highlights, whilst letting its ethnic roots seep into it to give it heartfelt grooves that could not be achieved without it.
This is a treatise of triumph in the face of disadvantage. In order to spread awareness of the horrors that have befallen Mali, Songhoy Blues have give a two-fingered salute to the forces of darkness, and have crafted a blues album that fuses a celebration of their ethic culture with the spirit of blues that succeeds on practically all levels. Because they cannot celebrate their culture in their homeland, they have instead chosen to spread it to us, to fantastic results. An excellent blues record, with a message that we all need to hear.
Read our interview with Songhoy Blues here.