On a windswept Brighton seafront, the Concorde 2 – based in a Victorian building that originally housed tea rooms in the 1800s – appears an incongruous venue for this Malian band, but their insistent circular riffs, infectious rhythms and the exuberant charm of singer Aliou Touré win over the capacity crowd from the start.
The four young graduates fled to Mali’s capital Bamako from their home of Gao in the north of the country when it was invaded by Islamic extremists – who outlawed all music – in 2012. In defiance, their own music is aspirational and uplifting, mixing western blues rock with Afrobeat and highlife.
The music is aspirational and uplifting, blues rock mixed with Afrobeat
Aliou, dressed in a white hooded top and black- and-white patterned trilby, calls out, “How ya doing Brighton?” to huge cheers, and then the group start up with Sekou Oumarou. The hypnotic riff and soaring solos from lead guitarist Garba Touré are backed up by heavy bass from Oumar Touré, and the result is trance-inducing and unique.
Though the band dedicate a slow blues to “our father Ali Farka Touré”, the link is inspirational rather than familial. Other influences become apparent as Garba’s playing evokes John Lee Hooker and Jimi Hendrix, but he really is a star in his own right, and the band exude a youthful energy of their own – at one point, when Aliou starts dancing, the audience clap along and try to copy his moves.
After the band end their set with the song that first brought them attention, Al Hassidi Terei, they come back for an encore, delivering the poignant Mali and the mighty blues rock of Soubour, on which Garba switches his clean Strat sound for heady distortion. With red-hot performances like this and a stunning debut album, Songhoy Blues are set to fly.