Review: Songhoy Blues & Témé Tan @ Omeara (London, 23rd March 2017)

If your music is strong enough to overcome religious fundamentalism and exile, how can a narrow-minded visa denial possibly harm it? That’s why Songhoy Blues, without their original bass player (who was stuck in Bamako because of an issue with his documents) performed a show to remember at Omeara.

Introduced expertly, by the electro-pop and Central African rhythmic twist played by Belgian/Congolese  Témé Tan. The Malian ensemble showed once again that its sound is more energetic and more determined than any force majeure.

Eight months after their triumphant gig at the Roundhouse, they came back to London for a more “intimate” show. But, when you write intimate in relation to Songhoy Blues, there’s always the risk that you might look foolish. The sound of the band is anything but intimate. They played loud, supported for the occasion by a local bassist who learnt his parts in just a few hours the day before the gig, and their messages were even louder. To call for fraternity, tolerance and mutual respect, is a trademark of the musicians from Timbuktu. They also hit, and hit hard those who put these basic values at risk, starting with those who didn’t allow their bass player to be on stage next to them. That’s why their new album, which made an unexpected and brief “appearance” during the show in the form of three new songs, will be less reserved, and more vocal than ever.

Despite the packed out atmosphere and full to the brim space of Omeara, Songhoy Blues set loose their trademark riffs, distortions, reverberations and drum beats, making full use of the venue’s excellent sound system and showing, once again, that the desert can be rock as much as blues.

Little more than two years ago, when they played in London for the first time, they were considered to be one of the next big up and coming acts of West African music, today Songhoy Blues have fulfilled that potential. They have the knowledge and skills enabling them to get an audience moving (not just in a metaphorical sense, considering the moves that Aliou Touré performs on stage) and their music wins you over in no time.

They are going to be back in London in July with a new album and (visa-permitting) full line-up. You don’t have to wait too long to be blown away by their unstoppable sound once again, a sound that fears no restriction, censorship or ban.

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