Words by Nigel Williamson
You wait 15 years for a new Sidi Touré album and then, like a fleet of bush taxis, three come along in a row. After Stern’s released Hoga in 1996, we didn’t hear again from the Songhai bluesman until he signed to the Chicago indie-rock label Thrill Jockey, which released Sahel Folk in 2011. Koima followed in 2012 and now comes Alafia. The title translates as ‘Peace’ and, like so many recent Malian albums, it’s a record deeply affected by the region’s turbulent politics. With his hometown of Gao in the hands of Islamic fundamentalists, Touré was forced to travel to record, first in Bamako and then in France. The results may be informed by the violent events that cast such a dark shadow, but they transcend them, too, as tracks such as ‘Ay Hôra’ (My Dance) and ‘Gandyey’ (The Spirits) with their relaxed, skipping rhythms celebrate the resilience of the human spirit.
Like Ali Farka Touré, his music draws on the bluesy tradition of northern Mali’s desert tribes. But there are substantial differences of shading and tone. If the deep blues of Farka Touré cast him as Robert Johnson or Muddy Waters, Sidi’s lighter folk style makes him more Leadbelly or Big Bill Broonzy: he’s the other side of the same Songhai coin.
TRACK TO TRY: ‘Ay Hôra’