Desert blues band Songhoy Blues grew out of political anger and civil unrest, with themes in their music inspired by their life experiences of being pushed out of their hometowns in North Mali by a jihadist group.
They aim to capture the spirit of northern Mali in their energetic performances and on albums like their 2015 debut, Music in Exile, and 2020's harder-rocking Optimisme.
Formed in 2012 at university in Bamako, Mali by Oumar Touré, Aliou Touré, and Garba Touré, Songhoy Blues was borne of frustration with the unrest in the north of Mali, which had forced them to seek refuge in the south. Drafting in drummer Nathanael Dembele, the group became a regular fixture on the Bamako live music scene, until their unique brand of traditional and modern songwriting -- a style similar to that by the likes of countrymen Ali Farka Touré and Baba Salah -- was picked up by French manager Marc-Antoine Moreau on behalf of the Africa Express label. Songhoy Blues' first recorded material appeared on the compilation Maison des Jeunes, after they were invited to record with Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner. A show in support of the album brought them to the U.K. at the end of 2013, and the band returned the following year to play a handful of gigs in London, Glasgow, and at the legendary WOMAD Festival.
While in the U.K., the group signed a deal with Transgressive Records and quickly returned to the studio with Zinner in 2014 to record their debut album. Music in Exile was released in February 2015, and featured guitar work by Zinner as well as backing vocals from Blur's Damon Albarn. Their debut was met with widespread acclaim, and following a number of high-profile slots at festivals like Green Man in the U.K., the band headed back into the studio. In 2017, Songhoy Blues released their sophomore effort, Resistance, recorded in London with producer Neil Comber (M.I.A., Goldfrapp), and featuring guest spots from Iggy Pop and Elf Kid.
The band returned in 2019 with the Meet Me in the City EP. The five-song collection included covers of Junior Kimbrough and Fela Kuti tunes, as well as a new song co-penned with indie folk artist Will Oldham. 2020 brought their third LP, Optimisme, which was preceded by the singles "Worry," "Badala," and "Barre," and ventured further into hard rock territory while still retaining their Malian rhythms. ~ Rich Wilson, Rovi