Malian blues quartet Songhoy Blues to bring ‘tropical garage political punk’ to Proud Larry’s

Posted on Oct 10 2017 - 7:58am by Ethel Mwedziwendira

Songhoy Blues, a blues guitar quartet that has captivated audiences since it first formed in 2012 at a refugee camp, has grown from street performances to tours since escaping its home country of Mali. The group is making its way to the United States, stopping in Oxford on Thursday.

“After university, we all went back to our hometowns in the north of Mali, and then when the trouble started in 2012, it became pretty clear we needed to leave the North for our own safety,” lead vocalist Aliou Toure said.

Songhoy’s influences, which include artists such as Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles and John Lee Hooker, have stemmed from American blues and Western African music. The group’s sound is described by fans as the perfect marriage of Mississippi Hill Country blues and tropical garage political punk. It also incorporates elements of Malian traditional music, such as deep grooves and cyclical cliffs.

“The band describes themselves as desert blues, but I’m not sure that fully does them justice,” Patrick Addison of Fat Possum Records said. “They are, no question, a rock band through and through. The West African elements are clearly present, but you also have fun blues and rock elements throughout.”

The band’s political message emanates from a civil conflict in which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of Mali.

On the brink of a civil war, the jihadist group forced the band to escape the northern region of Mali after the imposition of Sharia law outlawed music.

songhoy blues

Photo courtesy: Transgressive Records

Its first album, “Music in Exile,” highlights the situation in war-torn Mali. The album, featuring nuanced sounds, was later met with universal acclaim after its release.

“We were writing those songs (in the first album) for our brothers and sisters in Mali,” Toure said. “They were messages for our friends to try and bring hope and strength in a dark time.”

The group’s new sophomore album, “Resistance,” pays homage to its experience. The group’s second full-length album includes 12 songs detailing the adversity the members faced.

On its website, the band said, “As long as we have music left in us and something to say, we’ll keep fighting each day with music as our weapon, our songs as our resistance.”

Addison said the live show is what’s fun about the band. Live performances allow him to get the crowd involved and deliver a message of goodwill.

“The records are already timeless to me. They bring a message of peace and action as well. The band comes from an incredible background, and their story is important.”

Producing music with a handful of record labels, the group has become a critical favorite.

“What the band accomplished on their previous album was impressive to us (Fat Possum Records),” Addison said. “They are the kind of group that we want to be working with. They are hardworking and driven by message. Not to mention they put on a damn good live show.”

The band’s ties with Fat Possum Records has attracted a local crowd. This will be its first time performing in Oxford, a place where Mississippi blues runs deep and music is similar to the band’s style.

The connection between American and African blues has played an important role in the band’s musical influence.

According to an article published by PBS, the Mississippi Delta is considered to be the birthplace of blues, but the story of the blues dates back to West Africa. Slaves later carried the songs over to America.

“The band is heavily influenced by Mississippi Hill Country blues music, mostly Junior Kimbrough, and it’s pretty much the foundation of almost every song on the new album, ‘Resistance,’” Oxford local Kieran Danielson said.

There are also hints of psychedelia, garage rock, anthemic orchestral arrangements, punk and classic rock, according to Danielson.

“(This) makes them totally unique from almost everything on the label while also taking little bits from each artist on the roster,” Danielson said.

Danielson said he first discovered the band on NPR when Fat Possum announced it was signed to the label.

“They’ve opened my eyes to the average civilian’s perspective and experience in war-torn areas around the world,” Danielson said. “The normal, well-meaning people of those places are often overshadowed by a ton of negativity and depressing statistics. While they address those heavy issues, they also highlight bright and positive parts of their homes, most notably in the song ‘Bamako.’”

 The tour includes 35 shows across North America and Europe. Stops so far have included Washington, Montreal and Southern states like Tennessee.

Doors for the Proud Larry’s event will open at 9 p.m. Thursday.