words by will vincent
Look up the word resistance and you’ll find that it is fundamentally the ability not to be affected by something, especially adversely, and there isn’t a more perfect statement to sum up the Songhoy Blues ethos…
To recap, their vastly acclaimed debut album Music In Exile, was a formidable and rightly celebrated rock record linked to the story of the band being exiled from their hometown in Northern Mali and forced to flee to the capital of Bamako by a jihadi incursion. Songhoy Blues’ music, whilst a celebration of both their heritage and the music they love as a group was, and is, also a chance to help refugees continue to enjoy their culture and recreate the positivity of the north.
As if by extension, on their latest record Résistance, the message has shifted. Rather than focussing on the negativity surrounding the reasons for them having to flee from their homes and the problems that face the people of Mali, the new album pivots its focus to become something more ubiquitous – sharing the all of the beauty and positivity of their homeland, their culture, night-life and the desert landscapes that surrounds them.
Songhoy Blues are a group that always had the potential to be seen as inaccessible but by using music and enviable spirit as their all-embracing language and common ground, they have blossomed into an explosive outfit that aims to seamlessly fuse their trademark, groove-laden desert blues and African rock sound with hints of R&B, funk, soul and hip-hop. The traditional Songhoy Blues feel is still here, but Résistance is also strewn with fulsome, more diverse tastes.
The record also features some estimable guest appearances with raspy vocals from Iggy Pop on “Sahara” through to the rhythmic and passionate guest vocals from London MC Elf Kid on “Mali Nord”, and whilst they aren’t completely out of place or unwelcome within the realms of Songhoy Blues’ multifarious amalgamation of styles and genres, they by no means steal the show nor necessarily add anything to it. However, it is in part thanks to these collaborations, as well as their past work with Nick Zinner, Julian Casablancas and Damon Albarn, combined with their continued work with Transgressive Records that has given the band a much larger musical toolbox, allowing them to really stretch themselves.
From the first opening psych-rock infused guitar lines on “Voter” and the soulful “Bamako”; to the more traditional African sounds of “Hometown”; all the way through the moving and uplifting children’s choir chorus of “we can together” in the closing track “One Colour”; it’s clear what resistance truly means to Songhoy Blues. It’s an unwillingness to be captive to their immediate surrounding and to be pigeonholed by geographical location and any negative outside influences. It’s an invitation to a fierce dance for change, positivity and fundamentally the joy and borderless reach of their music.
‘Résistance’ is out June 16th, via Transgressive Records
Pre-order it here