Sunday ACL Fest Interview: Songhoy Blues

3:15pm, BMI stage

At the heart of Songhoy Blues’ second album Résistance lies “Bamako,” also known as the capital of Mali, from where the group originates. While the single’s video depicts a sprawling city of crowded streets, bustling people, and a rich nightlife, the West African musical wellspring served as refuge when the band’s hometown of Timbuktu was ravaged by Islamic jihadists in 2012.

In fear of beatings and having their instruments confiscated due to enforced Sharia law, the band fled south, an escape chronicled on 2015 debut Music in Exile.

“A track off that album called ‘Petit Metier’ literally translates as ‘little job,’” explains vocalist Aliou Touré. “It says that after the war, everyone must return to work, forget about the past, and concentrate on the future and rebuilding.”

While Music in Exile addressed the band’s “friends and fellow Malians,” the album brimmed with American blues and rock that crossed over to a wider demographic in the U.S. After the group spent nearly three years touring the world, Résistance explored political action transpiring in people’s everyday lives.

“‘Voter’ deals with disenfranchisement amongst voters with the political status quo,” detailed Touré. “And ‘Yersi Yadda’ is a protest song against those who use religion as a justification for violence. It literally translates as ‘We do not agree.’”

Like its predecessor, Résistance retains traditional Songhai “desert blues” culture while channeling more familiar styles like high-voltage punk (“Voter”) and turbulent funk (“Bamako”) with impressive guitar work strewn throughout.

“We want our music to be as universal as possible,” says Touré. “It’s surreal to feel the energy of people singing lyrics in Songhai, a language they don’t understand. It proves music is a universal language.”

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Songhoy Blues, ACL Fest 2017

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