When this young Malian group were in Australia last year for the Sydney Festival it was not their mix of west Africa and American blues, nor their blending of politics we grasped without words and rhythms which induced dancing, that most stood out.
We’re reasonably familiar with the form and the sounds of Mali by now after all. And even though the mixed results of the preceding tour and album from Amadou and Mariam had deflated some of the excitement touring African bands had previously brought to the festival, the audiences were not complete novices happy to take anything.
What was most striking about Songhoy Blues was their youth, or more specifically their inexperience after not much more than three years together and one album behind them. Essentially the songs didn’t live up the energy and the visceral pull of the Afro-blues they played: there was fun but not a lot of depth.
Instead, the show was propelled by the livewire presence of frontman Aliou Toure, and the promise of brilliance in the emerging guitarist Garba Toure, with the impressive bass underpinning from Oumar Toure working hard to make up for some limited drumming from Nathanael Dembele.
More than a year on, the development has been exponential. Resistance sounds great – vibrant and powerful’ acoustic instruments not shaded by the electric; solidity in the bottom end that drives the power; the vocals, both lead and the strongly packed backing ones, prominent and tangible.
Better still, while Garba Toure’s guitar playing consistently excites and lifts everything around him, the songs feel substantial and worth his efforts, right down to the final track, One Colour (which is one of several partly sung in English).
Yersi Yadda builds from a choppy opening to a compulsive movement with synths and brass offsetting the locked-in rhythm guitar and Ici Bas touches both the Caribbean and east London without ever losing its Malian shape.
Sahara, with an almost louche quasi-rap from Iggy Pop the initial talking point, is half way to flight already when the brief Hendrix-ian guitar solo takes off. And Dabari blurs the line between Bamako and electric Chicago so that you can almost feel the South slough off and the Southside take control just short of the two minute mark, just before Africa returns with force.
And then there’s Bamako which has the funkiest bassline you’ll hear outside the late Bernard Edwards, the brass-and-swing of early Earth Wind And Fire, and a fuzzy guitar sound which might have turned up on a Funkadelic record.
Resistance is an impressive second move from Songhoy Blues who no longer feel like boys with aspirations. It’s more than fun.
It’s also done one more thing: made me keen to get my hands on the new album from the truly great Malian, Oumou Sangare. Excuse me while I pop out for that.