“It Is Time For The Youth To Wake Up!” Songhoy Blues Interviewed

The Malian group on using music to illuminate the global conscience…

Some bands like to keep politics out of their mouths.  

Too complicated, they say. Muddies the waters. Detracts from The Art. Narrows their target market.  

For Songhoy Blues, there’s never been the option of choice. Political exiles from their homeland in northern Mali, they’re a band forged in defiance and protest – their very existence a ‘fuck you’ to a country that banned music.  

They began in a rebellion, sparked when the Tourag rebel group MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) overthrew the government and took control of the north of Mali. MNLA, in turn, were overthrown by a jihadist group who banned alcohol, cigarettes, and women talking.  

Fleeing their homes in the North, the three founding members (Garba, Aliou and Oumar Toure, unrelated in spite of the shared surname) sought refuge in Bamako and rebellion through song. A way to keep the traditions and melodies of their people alive. And so Songhoy Blues was born.  

Swept aboard Damon Albarn’s Africa Express, they found a platform to an international audience, the life-affirming exuberance of their live performances a tonic to those lucky enough to bear witness.

‘Optimisme’, their third record, is testament to both their activist grit and faith in joy. It’s potent, ferocious and fizzing with life, desert-blues licks winding serpentine through the amplified bombast of the classic rock they grew up idolizing. (And anyone jaded or disillusioned by the possibilities of guitar music would do well to listen to the magic they wring from theirs).  

Its release follows another turbulent political year in their country, as the military overthrew the government, arresting the prime minister and President. Even this interview was almost derailed. A phone interview thwarted by mobile reception, it emerged that the government were interfering with communications channels, fearful of cheating in student exams.  

Garba Toure, guitarist and songwriter, answered questions over email, but the statements of Songhoy’s music stand up entirely alone: of music as a mechanism for unity, a tool to help us unite and move – even in what can feel like the most unforgiving of our hours. 

– – –

– – –

We’re here to discuss ‘Optimisme’, your third record. The title’s a powerful statement in times like these. Where’s the good feeling coming from?

It’s this very moment that invites us to be optimistic. Better late than never. We have to be sure that the best will eventually appear. The intention of this record, as always with Songhoy Blues, is to evoke the subjects that are close to our hearts. We put the lyrics on our website so people can read the texts.

This album’s a real blend of Malian guitar and desert blues you’re known for with more Western influences – hard rock on Badala, disco on Pour Toi. What were you listening to to inspire this?

Yes, in Mali there is a great musical diversity and given our many travels around the world, we’ve discovered several musical styles and different music groups in blues, rock and others. It has really affected our music lately. There are not particular artists that informed these songs, just a general expanded interest in styles.

When did you start recording? What was the writing process?

It was really a long process all along the way. We were writing other songs, we were writing in Mali and all over the world. ‘Badala’ (which means “I don’t care”) came to our mind in New Jersey for the first time when we were getting together at moments of pleasure. While having fun, we fell on rhythms that we hold dear to our hearts from where we wrote a song, La Dessu.

It’s a multilingual record. Why do you choose to dip in and out of languages?

We always try to sing in as many languages as possible. The languages we speak every day are Songhoy, Bambara, French, and English – it’s to try to have a more universal aspect of our music.

Are you still based in Mali?

We are all based in Bamako (the capital) because the north (where Timbuktu is, and where we originate from) is really not stable at the moment to stay there with our various current activities. There are extremists who still live in the north.

You’re political exiles following the MNLA uprising. Do you believe music is a tool of active resistance?

Yes, for us music is one of the best weapons to conquer certain fundamentalist ideologies, as it has been for centuries in our country. It is through music that we solve many situations, as well as denouncing bad systems. Inviting people to mutual respect, social cohesion and so on. It is really a means with which we can pass on information quickly and efficiently to win and convince.

– – –

– – –

Do you consider your music to be political activism/protest music?

It is true that we have always raised political issues that worry us in our system of governance, but we cannot take up these issues alone, which is why we are committed to making committed music by denouncing and inviting young people to wake up, and that it is our right to acclaim our rights for 60 years. Politicians have been mismanaging our countries.  

How badly they run them, in Mali and a little bit everywhere in Africa, so for us it is time for the youth to wake up, because change is change and we need it. We will be able to bring it about and it is time for the awakening of consciences now everywhere in Africa.

What’s your take on the SARS (Special Anti-Robbery Squad, a Nigerian Police Force unit) violence against civilian protesters in Nigeria?

Our point of view on violence throughout the world is that we invite people to try to live together in this common family which is the world. Ethnic or racial violence has never contributed to anything positive and people must understand that we are born to live together. These ideas of division or superiority no longer belong to our generation – these practices are really over.

You’ve played some streamed online gigs and have more in the pipeline. How do they feel, to such a famous live band? Do you still feel the same connection to the audience?

Yes, we’ve done a lot of online live shows with Afropunk, KEXP, and many others. We miss the warmth of the audience because for us a concert includes many details such as applause, shouting, and many other exchanges before and after a concert. I would even say that it’s a very good thing. It’s the audience that helps us to release so much energy on stage.

What would you say to bands or musicians feeling trapped in the current time/political landscape?

Musicians trapped by the political landscape are just victims of moral constipation. I will tell them to stay close to the people because only this side remains. We cannot acclaim the people who divide us or block the development of our different nations.

– – –

– – –

‘Optimisme’ is out now.

Words: Marianne Gallagher

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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Track Of The Day 25/5 – Wande Coal

'Again'

Nigerian star Wande Coal is going to make 2020 his own.

Already one of the biggest stars across Africa, his international assent is inevitable and welcome.

An artist with talent to burn, each new single feels wholly addictive, with Wande’s ability to re-frame the afro-pop template resulting in some startling releases.

His new ‘Realms’ EP arrives in August, and it’s led by glorious new single ‘Again’.

A romantic, love-struck burner, it’s caused a sensation in his homeland, showing another side to this iconic figure.

Nigerian director Adasa Cookey takes charge of the video, shot mere days before Lagos was locked down due to COVID-19.

With Wande Coal at the centre of it all, it’s another reminder that Nigeria’s prince is ready to claim his throne.

Tune in now.

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

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Made In Lagos: The Embrace Of Wizkid

Exploring his key role in afro-pop's rise…

It is hard to quantify Wizkid’s cultural importance accurately in words for anyone that has not, at any point in the last decade, ventured into the uncomfortable embrace of the Nigerian psyche; but I’ll try.

It is a lasting feeling of pride in one’s countryman. An unshakeable belief in the 29-year-old’s magnificence and uncanny ability to belt out tunes that can – would – soundtrack your life, not in spite of the fact that they are afrobeats tracks but decisively because of that peculiarity. To be Wizkid is to be loved with undying fervor by millions of people around the world, powered a core following domicile in Nigeria, and, simultaneously, hated by a significant number of people; but at the same time command respect from both lovers and haters.

That’s Wizkid the Starboy, and that has been the status quo for much of the last ten years. To be Wizkid is to have the image of popular music from Africa so welded to your image that they are almost interchangeable.

When news filtered that there was going to be a sound clash featuring Wizkid online, the wheels started chumming in motion for what was going to be clearly going to be an occasion – tens of thousands of fans logged in for Popcaan Vs Burna Boy, the numbers were going to be significantly higher for Ayo Balogun.

– – –

– – –

Halfway into the No Signal music clash that took place between Wizkid and Vybz Kartel last week, this reality must have dawned on listeners tuned in from all over the world – particularly Caribbean listeners.

All over Twitter, there was disbelief, and later incredulity, as Wizkid took each round from the Worl’ Boss. At the end of the night the score read 10-nil. Wizkid victory in every round. But these sorts of social media-powered clashes will never serve as accurate barometers of the art and only function as release triggers for music lovers during these unprecedented times when uncertainty means that we couch our worry in music.

Vybz Cartel’s impact, music, and legacy is duly noted – and praised – across both divides, yet as culture journalist, Ivie Ani, astutely noted, “I think only one side truly understands Wizkid’s (influence).” And of course, that’s the Nigerian camp, the ones who have seen him grow from ghetto upstart to one of the most definitive voice of music in the world all in the space of 11 years. Ani further added: “A lot of people’s introduction to Wizkid AND an entire genre was within the last 4 years, not when he or it first emerged.” 

To understand the frenzied support for Wizkid, the deep ties between him and our genre, identity and pride, you have to go back 10 years. At the beginning of a decade that would change all conceptions of what was possible for a popstar from Africa.

– – –

‘Holla At Your Boy’, the mainstream debut track that launched Wizkid’s career, dropped less than 15 days into 2010, coming at a critical period for the future of afrobeats. At that time, D’banj was making a more concerted westward push with his music, the tour de force of the P Square brothers was coming to a grinding halt, and 2face was ceding the floor, newer were needed to step up to the fore.

Wizkid’s claim to superstardom came loud and clear on ‘Holla At Your Boy’, a teenage, tuneful number that ignited across Nigeria and introduced us to the boy from Surulere. Everything about Wizkid was a force of attraction: looks, voice, and fashion. A new generation of kids/ teens fell in love with him, wearing chequered shirts and baseball hats in his honour, while his suggestive lyrics did not stray too afar of the standards required in Nigerian homes.

Just a year later, his debut album aptly named ‘Superstar’ portended his career trajectory. That was the it album, the most-anticipated in years that blew up on release. Led by ‘Holla At Your Boy’, the album is littered with smash hits that catapulted Wizkid to a cultural icon status for teens and young adults; the likes of ‘Don’t Dull’, ‘No Lele’, ‘Tease Me/ Bad Guys’, and ‘Pakurumo’ – all spun during the sound clash – were on the album ensuring that Wizkid dominated radio, the awards season, and our hearts.

When afrobeats’ godfathers and leaders were pivoting or slowing down, the young master kickstarted the groove, making us all dance and sing teary-eyed across demography: from the highbrow mansions in Abuja to the middle-class apartments in Port Harcourt and lower-class shacks floating on the Lagos waterfronts.

That was Wizkid, that was the hero who could be us.

– – –

– – –

‘Superstar’ was a cultural reset, and courtesy of its popular appeal, we received the never-ending gift of Wizkid on hooks that took flight after the album drop. Wizkid’s ability to fashion the most relentlessly chaotic tunes ensured that no two hooks sounded the same and no song wasn’t a paradigm shift; in effect, a considered recalibration of what Nigerian pop could aspire to that.

Less than two years after ‘Holla At Your Boy’, we were egging our sonic conqueror on after his irrepressible rise. He was talking about money, lots of it; women; sex; and waking up in cities that he could only have dreamed of prior and we, the kids born after 1994, lived vicariously through his music. If you want to know what the bravado of this 20-something year-old kid sounded like, listen to ‘The Matter’ where he was featured by British-Nigerian Maleek Berry.

With complete certainty in something inexplicable, he goes:

20 man shall fall that day if you cross my lane oo
All your man shall fall that day if you cross my lane
Oya back to the matter
Open and close
Touch your toes

– – –

By the time 2014’s Ayo came, carrying the blatant influence of Fela’s afrobeat on ‘Jaiye Jaiye’, Wizkid was already subtly influencing the sonic range of global popular music. A collaboration with Chris Brown leaked; his take on the popular Azonto rave fed into D’banj’s Western push, linking local domination with pride for a new generation of Britons – raised kilometers away from Africa but birthed by African parents – who were becoming buoyant about their roots and the sounds thereof.

‘Ojuelegba’, the gem that elevated the afrobeats movement was housed on Ayo. I was a sophomore year student at university when the remix with Drake and Skepta came out, and it was a significant cultural moment for everyone connected to our rhythmic music.

I had listened to Drake on strolls at night on my campus’ grounds and now he was on a Wizkid joint? Drake?

Every step since that summer has established our success on a global scale and provided trackable metric for our movement that is celebrated with every retweet, every like, and each comment posted on social media. The dream was getting monumentally bigger, more vivid than anytime in our contemporary history, but in Wizkid’s winks, his pidgin, the slurry accent, and mischievous laughter, it still retained a connection to the oft grimy streets of Ojuelegba.

– – –

– – –

Chart success came for his big label debut, ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, in Belgium, Canada, and the U.S. And when Drake dropped ‘One Dance’, Nigeria, and Africa by de facto, became the next frontier for the capitalist gaze. Leading a phalanx of talented musicians, producers, and engineers from the motherland, Wizkid had taken us to the stratosphere.

That’s Wizkid the Starboy who so effectively carried the crusade of an entire genre to the front of the queue.

As collaborations dropped, followed by strategic photo-ops with western heavyweights, and, sometimes, studio leaks, we looked on in admiration and a number of us were inspired to take our gifts to the West; secure in our identity and the slightly bewildering knowledge that our music, and lifestyle, was gold.

To be Wizkid is to have your life’s work unforgettably linked to the fact that the most popular black music that blew up in the 2010s was afrobeats, and that you opened the door for that. As much as the rise has been meteoric, Wiz’s misdeeds and missteps have played out openly, dissected at length in the court of public opinion, that is the price of being a star.

– – –

By some alchemical concoction – or carefully considered planning – Wizkid again closed out his groundbreaking decade with the surprise release of ‘Soundman Vol. 1 E.P.’, a precursor to the madly anticipated album, ‘Made In Lagos’, that is sure to serve as a bookmark for an era: ending or finishing. In the 2010s, he navigated the terrain of global fame, extended the parameters of contemporary pop, and played a key role in furthering Nigeria’s burgeoning cultural image.

Despite struggling at times with the direction of the music, a hit has never been far away. And Wizkid is so readily protected by the dual nuclear threat of nostalgia and a fanbase whose loyalties and passion were fostered in the novelty of Superstar; the cocky strut that was Ayo; the unnerving global offering of ‘Sounds From The Other Sides’; and the unruffled assurance of ‘Soundman Vol. 1 E.P.’ – that’s why Wizkid can never lose, not even in an online sound clash.

– – –

– – –

Words: Wale Oloworekende

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine

 

 

Made In Lagos: The Embrace Of Wizkid

Exploring his key role in afro-pop's rise…

It is hard to quantify Wizkid’s cultural importance accurately in words for anyone that has not, at any point in the last decade, ventured into the uncomfortable embrace of the Nigerian psyche; but I’ll try.

It is a lasting feeling of pride in one’s countryman. An unshakeable belief in the 29-year-old’s magnificence and uncanny ability to belt out tunes that can – would – soundtrack your life, not in spite of the fact that they are afrobeats tracks but decisively because of that peculiarity. To be Wizkid is to be loved with undying fervor by millions of people around the world, powered a core following domicile in Nigeria, and, simultaneously, hated by a significant number of people; but at the same time command respect from both lovers and haters.

That’s Wizkid the Starboy, and that has been the status quo for much of the last ten years. To be Wizkid is to have the image of popular music from Africa so welded to your image that they are almost interchangeable.

When news filtered that there was going to be a sound clash featuring Wizkid online, the wheels started chumming in motion for what was going to be clearly going to be an occasion – tens of thousands of fans logged in for Popcaan Vs Burna Boy, the numbers were going to be significantly higher for Ayo Balogun.

– – –

– – –

Halfway into the No Signal music clash that took place between Wizkid and Vybz Kartel last week, this reality must have dawned on listeners tuned in from all over the world – particularly Caribbean listeners.

All over Twitter, there was disbelief, and later incredulity, as Wizkid took each round from the Worl’ Boss. At the end of the night the score read 10-nil. Wizkid victory in every round. But these sorts of social media-powered clashes will never serve as accurate barometers of the art and only function as release triggers for music lovers during these unprecedented times when uncertainty means that we couch our worry in music.

Vybz Cartel’s impact, music, and legacy is duly noted – and praised – across both divides, yet as culture journalist, Ivie Ani, astutely noted, “I think only one side truly understands Wizkid’s (influence).” And of course, that’s the Nigerian camp, the ones who have seen him grow from ghetto upstart to one of the most definitive voice of music in the world all in the space of 11 years. Ani further added: “A lot of people’s introduction to Wizkid AND an entire genre was within the last 4 years, not when he or it first emerged.” 

To understand the frenzied support for Wizkid, the deep ties between him and our genre, identity and pride, you have to go back 10 years. At the beginning of a decade that would change all conceptions of what was possible for a popstar from Africa.

– – –

‘Holla At Your Boy’, the mainstream debut track that launched Wizkid’s career, dropped less than 15 days into 2010, coming at a critical period for the future of afrobeats. At that time, D’banj was making a more concerted westward push with his music, the tour de force of the P Square brothers was coming to a grinding halt, and 2face was ceding the floor, newer were needed to step up to the fore.

Wizkid’s claim to superstardom came loud and clear on ‘Holla At Your Boy’, a teenage, tuneful number that ignited across Nigeria and introduced us to the boy from Surulere. Everything about Wizkid was a force of attraction: looks, voice, and fashion. A new generation of kids/ teens fell in love with him, wearing chequered shirts and baseball hats in his honour, while his suggestive lyrics did not stray too afar of the standards required in Nigerian homes.

Just a year later, his debut album aptly named ‘Superstar’ portended his career trajectory. That was the it album, the most-anticipated in years that blew up on release. Led by ‘Holla At Your Boy’, the album is littered with smash hits that catapulted Wizkid to a cultural icon status for teens and young adults; the likes of ‘Don’t Dull’, ‘No Lele’, ‘Tease Me/ Bad Guys’, and ‘Pakurumo’ – all spun during the sound clash – were on the album ensuring that Wizkid dominated radio, the awards season, and our hearts.

When afrobeats’ godfathers and leaders were pivoting or slowing down, the young master kickstarted the groove, making us all dance and sing teary-eyed across demography: from the highbrow mansions in Abuja to the middle-class apartments in Port Harcourt and lower-class shacks floating on the Lagos waterfronts.

That was Wizkid, that was the hero who could be us.

– – –

– – –

‘Superstar’ was a cultural reset, and courtesy of its popular appeal, we received the never-ending gift of Wizkid on hooks that took flight after the album drop. Wizkid’s ability to fashion the most relentlessly chaotic tunes ensured that no two hooks sounded the same and no song wasn’t a paradigm shift; in effect, a considered recalibration of what Nigerian pop could aspire to that.

Less than two years after ‘Holla At Your Boy’, we were egging our sonic conqueror on after his irrepressible rise. He was talking about money, lots of it; women; sex; and waking up in cities that he could only have dreamed of prior and we, the kids born after 1994, lived vicariously through his music. If you want to know what the bravado of this 20-something year-old kid sounded like, listen to ‘The Matter’ where he was featured by British-Nigerian Maleek Berry.

With complete certainty in something inexplicable, he goes:

20 man shall fall that day if you cross my lane oo
All your man shall fall that day if you cross my lane
Oya back to the matter
Open and close
Touch your toes

– – –

By the time 2014’s Ayo came, carrying the blatant influence of Fela’s afrobeat on ‘Jaiye Jaiye’, Wizkid was already subtly influencing the sonic range of global popular music. A collaboration with Chris Brown leaked; his take on the popular Azonto rave fed into D’banj’s Western push, linking local domination with pride for a new generation of Britons – raised kilometers away from Africa but birthed by African parents – who were becoming buoyant about their roots and the sounds thereof.

‘Ojuelegba’, the gem that elevated the afrobeats movement was housed on Ayo. I was a sophomore year student at university when the remix with Drake and Skepta came out, and it was a significant cultural moment for everyone connected to our rhythmic music.

I had listened to Drake on strolls at night on my campus’ grounds and now he was on a Wizkid joint? Drake?

Every step since that summer has established our success on a global scale and provided trackable metric for our movement that is celebrated with every retweet, every like, and each comment posted on social media. The dream was getting monumentally bigger, more vivid than anytime in our contemporary history, but in Wizkid’s winks, his pidgin, the slurry accent, and mischievous laughter, it still retained a connection to the oft grimy streets of Ojuelegba.

– – –

– – –

Chart success came for his big label debut, ‘Sounds From The Other Side’, in Belgium, Canada, and the U.S. And when Drake dropped ‘One Dance’, Nigeria, and Africa by de facto, became the next frontier for the capitalist gaze. Leading a phalanx of talented musicians, producers, and engineers from the motherland, Wizkid had taken us to the stratosphere.

That’s Wizkid the Starboy who so effectively carried the crusade of an entire genre to the front of the queue.

As collaborations dropped, followed by strategic photo-ops with western heavyweights, and, sometimes, studio leaks, we looked on in admiration and a number of us were inspired to take our gifts to the West; secure in our identity and the slightly bewildering knowledge that our music, and lifestyle, was gold.

To be Wizkid is to have your life’s work unforgettably linked to the fact that the most popular black music that blew up in the 2010s was afrobeats, and that you opened the door for that. As much as the rise has been meteoric, Wiz’s misdeeds and missteps have played out openly, dissected at length in the court of public opinion, that is the price of being a star.

– – –

By some alchemical concoction – or carefully considered planning – Wizkid again closed out his groundbreaking decade with the surprise release of ‘Soundman Vol. 1 E.P.’, a precursor to the madly anticipated album, ‘Made In Lagos’, that is sure to serve as a bookmark for an era: ending or finishing. In the 2010s, he navigated the terrain of global fame, extended the parameters of contemporary pop, and played a key role in furthering Nigeria’s burgeoning cultural image.

Despite struggling at times with the direction of the music, a hit has never been far away. And Wizkid is so readily protected by the dual nuclear threat of nostalgia and a fanbase whose loyalties and passion were fostered in the novelty of Superstar; the cocky strut that was Ayo; the unnerving global offering of ‘Sounds From The Other Sides’; and the unruffled assurance of ‘Soundman Vol. 1 E.P.’ – that’s why Wizkid can never lose, not even in an online sound clash.

– – –

– – –

Words: Wale Oloworekende

Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.

Buy Clash Magazine