One of the most joyous things about working for GigSlutz is the ability to seamlessly genre hop in the style of Michael J Fox’s time travelling tekkers in Back To The Future. So when I read the description “African Blues” casually slung next to Malian band Songhoy Blues, I was intrigued and excited. Surely, the blues comes from Africa, so I would be seeing something more authentic than their American counterparts, but perhaps the process of migration affects an authentic discour — then I told myself to shut my analytical noise and go have some bloody fun.
The pull of African Blues and brief potter on Spotify was enough to pique my curiosity, but apparently the crowd, packed to the rafters, in Manchester’s Gorilla knew something more. Songhoy are produced in part by Nick Zinner of Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and are part of a community of exiled Malian musicians, the story of which is the subject of the documentary They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music In Exile, which premiered at SXSW. With that combination a New York cool and true musical rebel behind them, expectations are high.
Songhoy Blues fulfil their hype from the moment they take the stage. The quartet take to their instruments and completely own them in a way I’ve never heard before. Every moment is filled with sound, an undulating, energetic, soulful sound packed full of emotion. It is an absolute joy to hear. The riff from Soubour could have been plucked straight fro a Gary Clark Jr. album, with a firm nod towards Memphis Blues. But the rhythm section, locked together and seamlessly switching between pace and time signature, amplify a great riff to higher planes of excellence. This is African Blues, 4/4 is out, something more special is happening.
Lead vocalist Aliou Touré’s deep timbre of a voice swells around the room. Singing in his own language, I may not follow the words but the sentiment is more than clear. Sekou Oumarou, a seductive slower track demonstrates the delicious stirring quality of his vocal prowess, the backing vocals from the band hypnotising the audience into a kind of docile nod. Petit Metier has elements of an outlaw track, switching between anthem chorus and staccato storytelling. At times like this it’s easy to say that the band are more BB King than BB King. We, the crowd, loved it.
Songhoy Blues are a truly interesting, original band that speak from the heart to move your soul and your feet. This unassuming group of men, with very little flash, pomp or ceremony, are some of the finest musicians around doing something far different to anything else you may here. A perfect fusing of Americana and Africa creating beautiful musical colours.