Most musicians probably think that they have to struggle for their art but, in the case of Malian quartet Songhoy Blues, sometimes it can become a matter of life and death. Members of the marginalised Songhoy tribe, Oumar Toure, Aliou Toure and Garba Toure (son of Oumar Toure, long term percussionist in Ali Farka Toure’s band), began to make music in their early twenties – inspired by hip-hop, R&B, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix as well as the songs and dances of their own culture.
The growing unrest in the north of Mali saw Oumar, Aliou, Garba and many of their family take refuge down south in Bamako as hostilities worsened in early 2012 and Songhoy Blues were born from this adversity. “We met up (in Bamako),” remembers Garba, “and told ourselves we couldn’t just stay shipwrecked by a crisis like this. We had to form a band.” They roped in a young drummer called Nathanial ‘Nat’ Dembele from Bamako and baptised their band Songhoy Blues in celebration of their displaced people and culture.
Coming into contact with French music manager Marc-Antoine Moreau, in the city to scout for musical talent on behalf of Africa Express, the band were invited to record a song with Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the track, ‘Soubour’, ended up as opening track on the Africa Express album, Maison des Jeunes. It’s a relationship that has continued onto their excellent debut record Music In Exile, just released on the Trangressive label and one of the most joyous experiences you’ll have this year.