The term “struggling artist” is thrown around a lot — especially about musicians in Los Angeles. But for the band Songhoy Blues, being an artist in Mali has become nearly impossible.
In 2012, the band had to abandon its hometown of Timbuktu after Islamic extremists banned music from being performed. Songhoy Blues relocated to Mali’s capital, Bamako, and released its debut album, “Music in Exile.”
The band is featured in the new documentary, “They Will Have To Kill Us First.” The film focuses on the fight to keep music alive in Mali after the jihadist takeover of the country.
The Frame's Oscar Garza spoke with lead singer Aliou Touré and guitarist Garba Touré (no relation) about their debut album and the documentary. (The band's manager, Mark Antonine Moreau, served as interpreter.)
How important is music to the people of Mali?
Garba: Mail is very into music and the music unites the people to get everybody together, so music is very important.
When the extremists moved into Northern Mali, they banned Western music. You play modern music, but it's traditional as well. Is this kind of music also banned in Northern Mali?
Aliou: Yeah, they stopped everything, just about every cultural activity was banned and stopped, even sports. Every radio station was stopped. You could not do anything.
I read one description of the band saying, "It's as if Ali Farka Touré and John Lee Hooker had a love child." What have been your influences? Have you listened to American blues music and do you hear the connection to Africa when you listen to American blues?
Garba: There's no doubt that there's a link between the American blues and the blues that's played in Mali, and especially because all of those big blues musicians all have African roots. So it's really connected and for us it's close.
You've collaborated with several people. One of them is Nick Zinner of the band Yeah Yeah Yeahs on the song "Sabour." How did this collaboration come about?
Garba: We have a project named Africa Express, and this project set up a project in Bamako. The idea was to show that the music was not banned and that a new generation of music was coming. So we played and Nick Zinner was there, saw the band and really liked us. So we decided to record together and this was the first track we recorded for the album, "Music in Exile."
Are you already thinking about your next album?
Garba: Yes, absolutely. It's almost everyday that we think of it and we've got plenty of new tracks to show to the people.
Do you think you'll record the next album in Mali or here in the United States?
Garba: We'd love to record it in Mali to keep the traditional roots of what we're doing.