Live at Brudenell Social Club on Friday, 23rd October 2015
The Brudenell is packed and brimming with anticipation. The gig is sold out and the crowd is a pleasant mix of young and old alike. The band open with a steady and tight number that showers on the crowd like a welcome rain driving across the Mali plain, cool and slow. Lead guitarist Oumar Toure sports the bands own band tshirt and looks like he cant quite believe his luck that they have been swept up in a whirlwind from Mali by westerners including Nick Zinner of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs to Atlantic records and now to the Brudenell in Leeds.
The second offering is an upbeat number that doesn't feature on the album. Lead singer Aliou Toure takes the lead role with some interesting Malian moves, incentivising the crowd with great vigor and conviction, the audience caught up as if in a squall at sea. Crowd participation grows with a strut and some more energised dancing and a clap along, thrilling stuff. The third number sees a return to more stable ground, the song crescendos with a tub thumping drum outro.
Every song is met with thunderous applause that carries the band on and on, floating ever further on this magical journey. The fourth song chugs along nicely and sounds like a distant cousin of band hero Ali Farka Touré bartering with Paul Simon. Its easy to see where people such as Paul Simon got his African inspiration from and why, time and time again western culture attempts to tease a glimpse of real music into the midst of everyday western lives. Just like Tinariwen before them, Songhoy Blues have been handed the world music torch and it is burning brighter than ever. Wayei is for fellow countryman and namesake of most of the band Ali Farka Touré who they refer to as their father, of which he is not, at least biologically, but musically and spiritually, certainly. Lead guitarist Oumar takes the lead in this song and we are transported to the Louisiana swamps before being soothed back in by Aliou's vocals, tinged with echo and delay.
The pace is picked up again with the next number and gets everyone swaying to the Mali magic once more. I'm informed by the sound Engineer that the band don't use setlists so it's also quite a game trying to identify the songs. The band are very good musicians and serve their craft well, delighting the crowd and giving them what they want at every turn. The next song creeps in like the first few bars to Hey Joe, the pick licking the fret clean. The song canters into a decent rhythm and quickens towards the end. Lead singer Aliou leads the crowd with cries of "you good" to which the crowd enthusiastically respond with Friday night screams. The band, which includes members with various University degrees, have only recently learned English and it's enough and certainly more Mali than the crowd can retort back. Apollo sees a hypnotic rhythm accompanied by an even more hypnotic guitar solo that transports the soul to a joyous place, the Mali Hendrix, Oumar, leads the crowd with Aliou buoying the crowd further with cries of Mali words which the crowd lap up, high on this new kaleidoscope of sound breaking through the grey Yorkshire night.
One of the mysteries of the music is that the words are in Malise and so its easy to transport oneself and lose yourself in the musical landscape that the band create. The band continue with another trance like slice of African psychedelia that sees the rhythm slow and quicken as if a fever were setting in. The drums and bass provide a foundation of off kilter rhythm that allows lead guitarist Oumar to play free and languish the unmistakable African sound upon the crowd. Next up is Irganda, a crowd favourite and the most polished sounding song of the night, but also the most western sounding song also, maybe the reason why it's a crowd favourite.
The band offer to play all night into the morning, stating that nobody has work tomorrow, the crowd surely would if not for licensing laws. Al Hassidi Terei sees arms aloft and the crowd accepting once more. The song ends with rapturous dancing by all, the crowd trying to mimic the dancing by lead singer Aliou all the while being charmed like a collective snake. The set ends abruptly and quite surprisingly in a very understated way, no silly rock'n'roll pretense here. The encore sees the lead singer perform Mali solo and he's finally joined by the band. The band end with another pleasing rhythmic number which gets the best reception of the night. African psychedelic disco at its best. If you didn't see them, catch them whilst you still can.
Songhoy Blues are a genuine musical treat with honest talent and real stories which is a thoroughly refreshing thing in this time of TV "talent" shows where we are plagued at every turn by the false and the talentless. How lucky we are that bands such as this are still encouraged to thrive and entertain. May it long continue.