LiveList Discovery: Songhoy Blues

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Songhoy Blues
Thursday, October 26 at 12:00 PM Pacific on KEXP

Against the odds, the West African nation of Mali has produced a long list of sonically innovative and commercially successful artists. From early innovators like Ali Farka Touré and desert blues pioneers Tinariwen, to more contemporary soul and pop artists like Salif Keita and Amadou et Mariam, Mali’s musical output has far out-proportioned its geographical size and population. No up-and-coming band captures the history and innovation of the country’s musical output better than Songhoy Blues. Here’s what you need to know:

Cultural Crossroads – Sonically, Malian music has long been defined by its unique blend of historically African elements with a more Western sound, traditionally. Songhoy features the instrumentation of a typical European or American blues-rock band, but many of their chord progressions and vocal melodies draw from West African origins. They’ve gained their fair share of European and American fans as well – Nick Zinner  (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) produced their first record and Iggy Pop makes a cameo on their second – but you won’t hear much English in their lyrics. Take their NPR Tiny Desk concert as a good introduction to their sound:

Music in Exile – It’s hard to talk about music in Mali without discussing what amounted to essentially a total ban of music in northern Mali in 2012. When extremist militias took over parts of the country, including the cultural hub of Timbuktu, rebel forces prohibited live musical performances, limited radio to political and religious speech, and forced the region’s thriving music scene elsewhere – hence the title of Songhoy’s debut album, Music in Exile. Though the extremists have not controlled the region in the time since, security threats in northern Mali have kept live music underground, and Timbuktu’s iconic Festival au Désert has yet to make its return. The continued prevalence of artists like Songhoy is testament not only to the longstanding and well-established importance of music in everyday Malian life, but also to the power that music can have in times of social, cultural, and political hardship. The 2015 film They Will Have to Kill Us First: Malian Music in Exile tells the story of this saga, and Songhoy Blues is featured prominently.

Résistance – Despite the rich history of the Malian desert blues, and despite the inspiring story of underground music in modern Mali, Songhoy Blues should not be reduced to characters in this broader story. Instead, they should be seen as the unique, talented, and exciting up-and-coming band that they are. Their new album Résistance dropped June 16, and it proves this point poignantly. Check out the first single below:

To check out their session on KEXP, set your reminder to hear Songhoy Blues live on Thursday, August 26 at 12 PM Pacific.

For more information on the band, visit:

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