Songhoy Blues review – exuberant African R&B

Easy-going charm … Songhoy Blues. Photograph: Andy Morgan

Easy-going charm … Songhoy Blues. Photograph: Andy Morgan

“This is dedicated to our father Ali Farka Touré,” announced lead singer Aliou Touré, somewhat confusingly, as the band launched into a song that started like a speeded-up African blues by Mali’s legendary guitarist, but then spiralled away into a furious and exuberant Hendrix-like improvisation, driven on by insistent bass and drums. Songhoy Blues are a four-piece guitar band who are not actually related to the great man, or even to each other, although three of them have the surname Touré, and lead guitarist Garba Touré’s dad worked as Ali Farka’s percussionist. But they are his children in the sense that they have taken his inventive style and moved it into a new dimension.

This was a small, packed-out venue but a big night for the young Malians who fled to the capital Bamako when radical Islamists invaded the north. They were celebrating the release of their debut album and had just learned that they have been signed to a major US label. It was easy to see why – they are an impressive live band with an easy-going charm and obvious ambition. They have learned English over the past year, and suggested to their audience that “if you like us, say so on Facebook”.

They came on stage looking like neatly dressed graduates (they have degrees in everything from molecular biology to town planning) with only bassist Oumar Touré sporting desert headgear like Tinariwen. But there any similarities with the laidback desert heroes ended. From the start they worked together as an attacking, tightly knit band, with Aliou playing driving lead guitar that spurred on the rapid-fire solos from Garba, while demonstrating a shoulder-shaking dance style. They slowed down occasionally for songs influenced by traditional Songhaimaterial, but, on songs such as Nick or Soubour, their furious African R&B echoed anything from indie-rock to Canned Heat. They have all the makings of African-rock crossover heroes.

At Great Escape Festival, Brighton (box office: 0870-264 3333), 14-16 May; Village Underground, London (box office: 020-7422 7505), 28 May.

Source:Robin Denselow|

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