Malian quartet Songhoy Blues tightens the connections between Saharan guitar music and rock music on its new album | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Malian quartet Songhoy Blues tightens the connections between Saharan guitar music and rock music on its new album 

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click to enlarge Songhoy Blues

Songhoy Blues

Steve Gullick

Over the last decade the crossover appeal of guitar music from Saharan Africa to Western rock fans has been caressed and milked. The best-known proponent of the music, the great Tuareg band Tinariwen, has regularly studded its albums with Western rock stars whose presence hasn’t appreciably altered its sound (save for a misguided cameo by Mark Lanegan on the 2017 album Elwan). In most cases, these guest appearances feel more like blurbs on a book jacket than collaborations. The Malian band Songhoy Blues has made the connections between Saharan and Western music far more explicit, opting for the kit drumming of Nathanael Dembele instead of the more traditional clopping of the calabash, and bringing on Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner to coproduce its 2015 U.S. debut, Music in Exile (Atlantic). Its 2017 follow-up, Résistance (Fat Possum), overcomes a shaky start to follow the same flinty, hard-rocking path of its predecessor, with generally strong results. Still, if there was ever an open-and-shut case against hollow rock star cameos, it’s the utterly ridiculous appearance of Iggy Pop on “Sahara,” where he seems determined to turn the tune into a Malian equivalent of the theme song from Green Acres, moaning, “There ain’t no condos / Ain’t no pizza / It’s a genuine culture / No Kentucky Fried Chicken.” Songhoy Blues’s Bambara-language songs are solid, with arrangements that effectively balance injections of funk and a guest rap from grime MC Elf Kid over traditional instrumentation including kora and n’goni. Guitarist Aliou Touré is a dynamic singer with a soulful, piercing presence, and his interplay with fellow guitarist Garba Touré transcends genre, continent, and even the lingering effects of Iggy Pop.   v


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