Live review: Songhoy Blues, Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival, Wed 22 Jul
Malian quintet put on danceable songs with a serious message
Malian quintet Songhoy Blues have become something of a buzz-band in the UK in recent months, thanks in part to an inspirational back-story that adds an extra element to their signature brand of classic blues with an African twist. When Islamic extremists overran the northern region of the country that the four call home, they fled to the capital city of Bamako and formed Songhoy Blues. Picked up by Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, the quintet was soon propelled from playing small Bamako bars to the likes of tonight’s sold-out show in the Scottish capital.
The venue itself, a kind of Moulin Rouge / western saloon hybrid, was packed with an audience already well acquainted with the craft beers and G&Ts heavily advertised outside. This was a fact not lost on the frontman, who keenly encouraged consumption to aid the dancing to come. Not so much snake-hips as snake-legs, Aliou Touré contorted himself into shapes that would put Future Islands' Samuel Herring to shame, all the while wide-eyed with a Cheshire cat grin. This often took the form of erratic chicken dancing, a point reaffirmed by the hilarious repeated shouting of ‘chicken!’ in almost every song.
This potential for dance is made possible by some of the most impressive guitar hooks and lines around at the moment, each as indebted to Jimi Hendrix as they are to their African roots. It’s easy to get lost in the sprawling solos, but you come out the other side thankful for the experience.
However, despite the constant sense of excitement and jubilation, these are songs that are from a very serious place. While many of the audience may not understand the lyrics, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that they were born from a situation that most in the room are fortunate enough to not have experienced. As Touré is keen to express between songs, they love their homeland despite the issues it’s had, and it’s this steadfast faith in their roots that has allowed them to act as ambassadors for their country far beyond its troubled borders.
Seen at the Spiegeltent, St Andrews Square, Wed 22 Jul, part of the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival 2015