Words by Nigel Williamson
Like his compatriot Bassekou Kouyaté, it has taken Samba Touré a while to emerge as a star of Malian music. Now in his mid-40s, his slow advance finally began to gather pace in 2009 with Songhai Blues, recorded for the label World Music Network. Conceived as a tribute to the late Ali Farka Touré, the record helped establish him as perhaps the most talented of the next generation of Songhai bluesmen, taking forward the great man’s legacy. He entrenched his growing reputation with a second album for World Music Network, 2011’s Crocodile Blues. His first for his new label, Glitterbeat, sounds like another major step forward. The sharp production by Chris Eckman of Dirtmusic and the guitars and keyboards of Hugo Race, formerly of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, lend the record the kind of dynamic energy that will appeal to indie rock fans. Yet it’s done with a subtlety that avoids any sacrifice of the wellspring of Samba’s inspiration, the timeless profundity of the African blues tradition.
Recorded in Bamako in autumn 2012, Albala is a suitably dark, even sombre work that reflects Touré’s desperate concern over the troubles in northern Mali on songs such as ‘Fondora’ (Leave Our Road), ‘Ago Djamba’ (Life Betrays Us) and the plea for ethnic unity ‘Awn Be Ye Kelenye’ (We Are All Malians): the album’s title is a Songhai word meaning ‘danger.’ His voice is resonant, the rhythms have a relentless groove and his guitar burns with the intensity of the desert sun. But above all, there’s a confidence and gravitas that reinforces the feeling that Samba is a man whose time has come.
TRACK TO TRY: Fondora
(On Glitterbeat Records)