Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile


Cover art for Music in Exile
Photo via Atlantic Records

What do you do when music is banned? Bruce Gulland and Liz Waid tell about the musical group Songhoy Blues. They came together because music in their country was banned.

Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Bruce Gulland.

Voice 2  

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

This song is called “Al Hassidi Terei.” It is by a group of musicians called Songhoy Blues. This band is from Mali, in West Africa. The song is about extremists - people who have extreme political and religious opinions. The members of Songhoy Blues are religious. But they are not extremists. More than anything, they love music. Many musicians believe that music gives a kind of freedom. But what would happen when musicians who believe this cannot play? Today’s Spotlight is on Songhoy Blues, and the freedom of music.

Voice 2  

Songhoy Blues plays very modern music. In some of their songs, they sound like the famous American rock musician Jimi Hendrix. In other songs, they sound like traditional American blues musicians like BB King, and John Lee Hooker.

Voice 1  

But Songhoy Blues is also very Malian music. Mali has one of the oldest musical traditions in the world. Ian Birrel is the co-founder of a music organization called Africa Express. He wrote on the Guardian news website,

Voice 3  

“Music is more a part of the life of the nation in Mali than any other place in the world. It has political, cultural, and social influence.”

Voice 2  

But Mali has not always been friendly to musicians. In 2012 a group attacked cities in northern Mali. This group was Ansar Dine. Ansar Dine is an extreme religious group. They do not permit different religious or social ideas. Ansar Dine wanted to make a new nation governed by extreme religious laws. These laws would ban many things the Malian people enjoyed. Ansar Dine’s laws would even ban music!

Voice 1  

Garba Touré is from the group Songhoy Blues. He plays the guitar, a popular instrument in rock and roll music. Garba lived in Mali when Ansar Dine invaded. He tells the Guardian,

Voice 4  

“Ansar Dine ordered people to stop smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and playing music. I do not smoke or drink. But I love the guitar. So I thought: ‘I cannot stay here. I have to go south.’”

Voice 2  

Garba fled to Bamako, the capital of Mali. Thousands of other people fled there too. Most had lost their homes. They had to leave people they loved behind. But the people fleeing from the north found fighting in Bamako too. There was violence everywhere.

Voice 1  

But, in Bamako, Garba met Aliou Touré and Oumar Touré. Aliou and Oumar also played music. Aliou sang. And Oumar played an instrument called the bass guitar. Both had also fled the music ban in the north. The three became friends. Soon, they began playing music together. They also hired a man to play the drums - Nathanael Dembélé

Voice 2  

Ansar Dine had changed Garba, Aliou, and Oumar’s lives forever. But the friends did not lose courage. Instead, Garba, Aliou, and Oumar wanted to fight against the violence with their music. They wanted to write about issues affecting their country. They even named themselves after the exiles in Bamako. They called themselves Songhoy Blues.

Voice 1  

‘Songhoy’ is the name of an ethnic group. The Songhoy are a desert people. Some live in the north of Mali. Garba, Aliou, and Oumar are Songhoy. Many of the refugees in Bamako were too. Songhoy Blues saw, and knew, how difficult it was to be away from home. And they wanted to write music for people like themselves. In 2014 Aliou Touré spoke to the BBC about a new song, written in Bamako. He said,

Voice 5  

“The song is called Desert Melodie. It says instead of fighting, why not find art? Buy a guitar and play it. It is a very good sound. It is a much better sound than the cries of women who have had their hands cut off, or of children. These are the kind of terrible things which have moved us, and shocked us, and made us flee to Bamako. It is a terrible thing to live through that.”

Voice 2  

Songhoy blues was soon very popular in Bamako. Many Malians liked their music, not just refugees. People from fighting ethnic groups came together to listen to them. And these people told other people about Songhoy Blues. Soon, Songhoy Blues met people from the organization Africa Express. Africa Express is a music organization from the United Kingdom. Famous Western and African musicians are involved with the group. Africa express brings these musicians together. They can play music together, and learn about each other’s culture.

Voice 1  

Africa Express asked Songhoy Blues to play with a Western Musician. His name was Nick Zinner. Zinner is in a famous band from the United States. It is called the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Together, they recorded a song called Soubour. Everyone at Africa Express was very excited about the song. Zinner helped produce their first CD. It was called “Music in Exile”. And soon, the band was playing their songs for people to hear all over the world.

Voice 2  

Today, just a few years later, the situation in Mali is better. Many countries came together to help Mali. They defeated Ansar Dine. But the group is not all gone. And many musicians still do not feel safe. Although it is dangerous, Songhoy Blues continues to play. They have played with musicians who are famous throughout the world. Their listeners are everywhere; in Europe, in the United States, and especially in Africa. But even though they are not always in Mali, they still play music for their country. They let the world know about what happened there. And they encourage their people. Aliou Touré is Songhoy Blues’ singer. He said, in an interview with the Chicago Tribune newspaper,

Voice 5  

“We are telling people to be patient in what they are doing. We will all come together for a common purpose. We will live in peace together.”

Voice 1  

The writer of this program was Dan Christmann. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, "Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile".

Voice 2  

Tell us what you think about today’s program. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. And find us on Facebook - just search for Spotlight Radio.

Voice 1  

You can also get our programs delivered directly to your Android or Apple device through our free official Spotlight English app. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Do you make music or listen to it? Could you live without music?

Comments


Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 16, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Wednesday 16, November 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Liz Waid, Dan Christmann, Bruce Gulland, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you for bringing for us readers and learners of English more one great article, thanks!
No, I do not make music but I listen to it.
Yes, I could live without music but living with music is much better.

The best regards,
Severino Ramos
Brazil