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Songhoy Blues deliver 2020's most joyous album with the essential Optimisme

Optimisme is the spectacular third album from Mali’s greatest rock band Songhoy Blues

Songhoy Blues: Optimisme
(Image: © Fat Possum)

Has any band ever captured the pure, unadulterated joy of music more perfectly than Songhoy Blues? They formed in Bamako, Mali nearly a decade ago. Having been exiled from the north of the country by a regime that, among other things, banned music, they know better than most how vital for the soul this basic human right is. 

Theirs are protest songs that, far from calling on the listener to take up arms, demand that you dance.

Optimisme, their third album, has a tougher edge than their previous releases, and opener Badala (which apparently means ‘we don’t give a fuck’ in Songhay) announces their arrival with a gloriously filthy classic rock riff.

Crammed with staccato rhythms and an irresistible desert-blues shuffle, the whole record fizzes with energy, the gentle, acoustic start of Por Toi blossoming thrillingly into a moment of intensely funky disco. 

Worry, meanwhile, is a rare English-language track, and its message – ‘Don’t worry, you’ve got to be happy/Keep fighting today, that smile will come one day’ – is presented with such clear-eyed belief that it would make even the hardest heart leap. 

In a year like 2020, we all need Optimisme – an essential album that gets better with every listen.