Wednesday, 14 September 2016

World Tour

(l to r: Group Doueh, Tinariwen, Songhoy Blues)
Week 2: North West Africa

I'm not great with heat. I tend to flag rather quickly in the blazing sun. Nonetheless, Africa is a place that intrigues me. Let's not forget, the roots of rock and roll can be traced back to Africa. A lot of African music influenced the blues, which itself was created by the descendents of those first slaves stolen from their homeland by us westerners.

So from Spain we land in Morocco, then a bit of a drive into the disputed territory of Western Sahara. Currently under Moroccan rule, Western Sahara is not recognised as a country in its own right by many. It is the home of the Sarahawi (Saharan people) who include Group Doueh. They describe their music as "coming from an Islamic foundation, one that builds on the poetry of our language and modal scales of the traditional music from our area." They do, however, acknowledge a handful of western influences too, in particular Jimi Hendrix who band leader Salmou 'Doueh' Baamar discovered through his constant search for music at a young age.

Group Doueh's first gig outside Western Sahara must have been something of a real culture shock for a band of four Muslims: it was in an Anglican church selling beer in Brighton, Europe's gay capital! It didn't appear to phase them: "We are introducing our way of life and our music. This is a bridge from our culture to theirs. This represents our way of life and we hope our music projects that." They are signed to Seattle-based label Sublime Frequencies which has released four albums by the band. I've chosen this song from their most recent album 'Zayna Jumma' from 2012.

Next stop: Mali. Now it's actually quite difficult to get to Mali from Western Sahara, particularly if you try to enter from the north. Islamic militants control much of the north so it's not a recommended route. Air travel is limited, so it looks like good old car is the way. There is only one main road, however, and it takes us around the extreme west coastline of Western Sahara, into Mauritania and eastwards into Mali. It's a bloody long way and takes a heck of a long time, but if we're seeking out music, it's never too far or too long.

Mali has become a bit of a hip place for music in recent years. Tinariwen, a tribal band of Tuareg rebels, were first conceived in the late 70s as a loose collective playing protest music drawn from influences in Algeria, Morocco and western rock music. From day one their driving force has been  Ibrahim Ag Alhabib who continues to lead Tinariwen to this day, though most of his life has been lived in exile from his homeland. Over the years Tinariwen's acclaim has grown to global proportions and since the turn of this century, have become one of the biggest African musical exports of all time. I first heard them on the 2005 War Child charity album 'Help: A Day In The Life' on which they contributed the track Cler Achel. I loved it and have continued to follow the band ever since. Here's Emajer, a track from their 2014 album 'Emmaar'.

I can also thoroughly recommend a band from southern Algeria called Imarhan. They are also Tuaregs and one of them is related to one of Tinariwen. Algeria isn't part of our journey though,so I'm going to point you towards CC's recent post to sample the delights of Imarhan.

Chances are you've heard of Songhoy Blues, although their existence is a mere fraction of Tinariwen's. It was mainly down to Damon Albarn and his African Express project that brought Songhoy Blues to the world's attention. Nick Zinner, guitarist of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, co-produced their debut album 'Music In Exile' which came out last year and it has been a whirlwind of acclaim and success since then. With good reason - they ain't half bad. Their blend of western rock music with a traditional Malian groove is so infectious, it's something of an epidemic.

The band originally formed in northern Mali, but were forced out by the Islamists. Moving south to Bamoko and Timbuktu, they cut out a niche for themselves playing in the local scene, but adding a direct northern edge to their sound. It's unmistakably African, but with a pure rock and roll guitar-bass-drums lineup. It's simply joyous.

As well as the album, Songhoy Blues also put out an EP of covers last year, which included their own take on the Clash's Should I Stay Or Should I Go. Yes, it is as wonderful as it sounds.

And here's Songhoy Blues live on Later... With Jools Holland last year.

Africa is huge, so I reckon we need another week here. Heading south, but this time we're flying...


  1. Loving the music and the geography lessons Robster

  2. Loving songhoy blues album duly downloaded.

  3. How dare you suggest Western Sahara is a country! Kidding. I didn't have a clue. Really digging this series. The maps are a great touch. Can't wait to head south next week.

    On a related topic, Anthony Bourdain took a fascinating trip to Senegal last year for his CNN show. Great segment on the musician Youssou N'Dour. Highly recommended.

    1. I love Youssou. I've seen him live twice (both way back in the early 90s) - the first time at an instore in HMV in London, the second at Glastonbury. A wonderful singer. I'll see if I can find that doc. Cheers Brian.

  4. Replies
    1. Rashid Taha does a great Rock the Casbah

      The Clash - big in North Africa

  5. Very much looking forward to you heading down further South: after the Bhundu Boys, 4 Brothers et al - or John Peel in general, if you'd rather - I somewhat stopped taking care about new music from that area. Hopefully you'll come up with new suggestions!

  6. I'll say it again Robster, this is a kickin' series. I'm generally appalling at geography, so I'm learning a lot. I missed Imarhan a couple of weeks back when I was a bit poorly - gutted.