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The Evening Standard DECEMBER 10, 2013 - by Simon Broughton
AFRICA EXPRESS, OVAL SPACE
The young Songhoy Blues band from Timbuktu stole the show at the launch event for the new Africa Express CD, Maison Des Jeunes.
It's hard to imagine a bigger contrast than that between the Bethnal Green gasholders and the sandy streets of Timbuktu, yet the young Songhoy Blues band from Timbuktu seemed perfectly at home in the Oval Space at the foot of the gasometer.
It was the launch event for Maison Des Jeunes, the new Africa Express CD, which saw Damon Albarn, Brian Eno and others heading to Mali, to record with Malian musicians. "We wanted to remind the world at large that there is extraordinary music in this country," said Albarn. "We only did a week of recording," said Eno, "but they have two thousand years of practice."
Despite visa problems, which seem to be a renewed curse on London's music scene, several of the Malians involved were present and performing in London for the first time.
The young Kankou Kouyaté, niece of Bassekou Kouyaté, had the challenging opening slot against the noisy crowd. She has a gorgeous voice but her music was lost in the background chatter. Bijou, the other female vocalist, was less musically accomplished but had a more attentive audience because Damon Albarn was accompanying on keyboard. British singer and rapper Ghostpoet was next and, although his words were inaudible, the rhythms of his set were powerfully backed by magnificent West African percussion.
But it was Songhoy Blues that stole the show. Led by singer Aliou Traoré, who left Timbuktu when it was overrun by Islamist militants who banned music earlier this year, the band was formed a few months ago in the Malian capital Bamako. Aliou is a charismatic front man, while his brilliant side-kick is Garba Touré on electric guitar, whose father played in Ali Farka Touré's band.
The fact that Songhoy Blues played as many Ali Farka Touré songs as their own suggests it's early days, but they certainly are the new African band to watch.