1000 Albums Project

ALBUM 230

Music in Exile, by Songhoy Blues
Suggested by Simon Rodway

Besides the tangible benefit of creating a regular writing regimen, my main impetus for this project was to sample New Music. Oddly, this hasn’t been as successful as I’d expected.

It’s not that I’m being presented with derivative works. Far from it. There are plenty of acts and albums that are new to me, delivering fresh and exciting sounds. The issue is the speed of delivery, and the necessity of the review.

I never expected to be writing these reviews, when I started. I penned a few, for the metaphorical lulz. Once the routine because accidentally bedded in, I never thought I’d reach fifty, one hundred, more. Like the Dread Pirate Roberts, I thought I’d probably kill this conceit in the morning. But it stuck, and it’s fun, and I’m enjoying it, and I know you are too.

But in order to process and package the music, I need to be reductive. To communicate the strengths or weaknesses in the sound, I categorise, and pigeonhole. So the new groove becomes a soundalike, adorned with colourful labels to allow easy filing. That cool throbbing alt metal band? Sounds like Korn. Bloke with a Guitar? Fake Ed Sheeran. Intelligent rapper? Diet Kanye.

Almost everything has a parallel, so it’s rare I face something surprising. When I do, the high scores come thick and fast. Unless it’s plinky plonk, because screw that crap.

Songhoy Blues? Extremely surprising. Like nothing I’ve heard. And utterly delightful.

If I have to slot this sound into a box, I’d label it Blues Rock with an African Desert core, but this description does little to convey the wonderful music on offer. It’s guitar driven, but that guitar is high and jangly, with infectious and repetitive refrains fresh of the Saharan plains. It sounds like the whole band pull a choral chanted vocal duty, delivering exultant lyrics in the Songhai languages and dialects of the Mali region. To the casual listener, it’s entirely impenetrable, but it’s never less than enthralling, expressive and effortlessly cool.

As for the songs, they are intriguing and exciting, full of energy and elan, each a breathless slice of wonderment that defies conventional examination. My standout is the opening track, the electrifying Soubour, a stomping and driven clapalong anthem that’ll linger long in the memory. From the almost Bollywood vocal and skittering drums on Irganda to the percussive and swirling Wayei to the pared-back acoustic Mali, every single track is an exercise in unrestrained expression that’s impossible to sideline.

Simply put, if this doesn’t get you, there’s something broken in your soul. Music in Exile gets an undisputed 9/10. It’s the most exciting album I’ve heard in my two hundred and thirty thus far, defying all my expectations, and it’ll take something very special to dislodge its worthy crown.

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