The contrast between their homeland and the rest of the world, and how Mali is perceived, forms the core of Songhoy Blues’ thrilling new album, Résistance, one that combines elements of reggae (Voter) and even country (Hometown) with their blistering, compelling West African rock music – they are often described as “desert blues”, but they are far more than that. Because, make no mistake, Songhoy Blues do not make “world music”. As Aliou puts it: “We find it very hard to describe the kind of music we make. To us, world music doesn’t make sense. It’s an industry thing. African artists play rock as well, they play blues as well. Blues is from there, rock is from there, reggae is from there, hip hop is from there. So how come people call African music world music? Why not African rock or African hip-hop or African reggae?”
Songhoy Blues were formed in 2012, when three musicians from northern Mali, fled to the capital, Bamako, after the Islamist group Ansar Dine took control of the region, banning music among many other things. The three met in Bamako, recruited a drummer and the band began.
As Songhoy Blues travelled the world, they kept encountering the same portrayals of Africa: not as a vibrant, breathing continent of 54 countries, encompassing dozens of languages, ethnicities, and cultures, in which millions upon millions of people live fulfilled and productive lives, but as some homegenous mass of despair, war, famine and poverty. On La Resistance, Songhoy Blues don’t lecture the audience about Africa. They paint a picture of their part of the world with humour and defiance, using special guests to make their points for them, where appropriate
“Our music is all about actuality. The situation in Mali now is different from 2012: it is getting better, so the lyrics we wrote are all about that. Not just in Mali, but outside Mali. And the way we wrote music changed with the way things were going on around us”. But some things do not change in the world of Songhoy Blues. Because whether Mali is in the grip of strife, or pulling itself back together, the essential message of the music made by the group remains the same, one of communicating the joy of music.