(Fat Possum Records)
Aliou Touré, lead singer of Songhoy Blues, has one of the widest smiles that I have ever seen. He is displaying his grin whilst cavorting around the tiny stage at Moseley Folk Festival, beaming mischievously at the crowd and at rest of the band. His joy is infectious as is the exuberant, electrifying sound that the band are playing.
It is a hot day in September 2016 and the band are basking in the glow of the success of their magnificent debut album (2015's Music in Exile). Originally from Mali, Songhoy Blues were forced to leave their homes during the civil conflict and the imposition of Sharia Law. It's a sad tale but you just wouldn't know it by seeing or hearing them perform, they are relentlessly positive. Their most famous song 'Soubour' (which means patience), asks for refugees to have patience with their situation. It is an elevating and inspiring number with a monumental blues riff. The festival crowd adore it.
Less than one year on and Songhoy Blues have released their second album: 'Résistance' As soon as opener 'Voter' kicks off, it's clear that Songhoy Blues now have a much bigger, more universal sound. The song shifts from their familiar desert blues into a ballsy rock chorus that would be more at home with Josh Homme.
The single Bamako is a homage to the city in Mali where the band started. It's deleriousy funky and although some may flinch at the incorporation of mainstream pop hallmarks (especially the synths), Songhoy Blues do not dilute any of their trademark vitality.
The two collaborations with other artists on Résistance may raise a few eyebrows. Sahara starts like a Tinariwen number before Iggy Pop wanders in and drawls that he is ''Goin' to the Sahara Baby." Pop then notices that place has '... Got a bad reputation/ in the developed nations' before observing that you can't purchase pizza or Kentucky Fried Chicken there. It's a neat juxtaposition.
Mali Nord however, is more of a curiosity, full of interweaving jiving guitars and harmonious vocals, it also includes a rap by London based grime MC Elf Kid. Although both artists are commenting on the plight of refugees, the rapper's contribution just seem incongruous in the surroundings.
Sitting amongst the more conventional blues numbers on Résistance is the gorgeous laid back country-folk of Hometown - which introduces a mellow fiddle into the mix. It's one of the many beautiful surprises to be found on the album. The best moment though is the closing 'One colour' where a choir of children sing 'we can together'. Its a poignant and heart warming end to the album.
With Résistance, Songhoy Blues have had the courage to broaden their horizons, experiment with new sounds and keep all of the things that made them unique intact. Their journey has only just begun.
Jason Lewis is a Birmingham based music, movie and arts obsessive. Jason's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.