Malian Psychedelic Rock Group Songhoy Blues Performs Live On Okayafrica TV

Watch Songhoy Blues play an electric rendition of "Soubour" in New York City, a highlight from their debut album 'Music In Exile.'

Mali’s desert rock ensemble Songhoy Blues made waves this year with the release of their debut album Music In Exile. The collection of 11 songs is shaped by the band’s displacement after their hometown of Gao in northern Mali was overrun by conflict in 2012.

The band had a strike of luck after cold-calling an Africa Express producer while he was in Bamako, which eventually led them to record with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and sign with Atlantic Records—becoming the first African act the major label has signed in over 40 years.

The band’s story is prominently featured in the documentary film They Will Have To Kill Us First: Malian Music In Exile, which follows Songhoy Blues and other Malian musicians as they resist the cultural repression sweeping through their nation.

Okayafrica TV recently captured Songhoy Blues’ electric live set during their show at Rough Trade in New York City. Watch our music video style clip of the group performing "Soubour” below, which we’re dropping today in conjunction with the release of They Will Have To Kill Us First across the UK & Ireland, as well as the formation of the Music In Exile fund.


6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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