Sidi Touré -Alafia (Thrill Jockey)
Mali has endured some unstable times recently. With the Tuareg rebellion and military coup in 2012, the ensuing struggle for power had Islamists seizing the North and Al-Qaeda enforcing Sharia law. Then France brought in the troops, thousands of refugees fled the country, the MUJAO was driven out, and an interim government just held an election, but things remain uncertain.
Depending on how closely you follow world events, it can be difficult to separate a country’s political situation from its’ music, and for some artists, it follows that that kind of strife would determine the sound and content. Given the events of the last 18 months, Sidi Touré’s music here remains surprisingly bright, showing defiance and equanimity in equal measure. If you read Touré’s take on the situation in Mali, it’s remarkable how such harsh conditions don’t darken his outlook: when extremists roll into town and you have to flee and record while exiled in France as thugs ban all non-religious music with a provisional police force arresting musicians andconfiscating and burning CDs and instruments in the streets -nevermind the forced amputations- the refusal to change one’s tune and be a messenger is a show of courage.
And that’s what makes Alafia (which, fittingly translates as “peace”) subversive, and in turn inspiring: it’s the sound of resistance, as Touré appears in many an interview to be an ambassador for his music as a positive force, divorced from- possibly even transcending- ideology, working with a vested interest in stability and development in his homeland. Similar to Woody Guthrie, Fela Kuti, and Burning Spear (among many others), there’s an urgency to his voice, drawing power from the collective legacy of Songhaï folk and other local styles, with nods to other great countrymen: the signature twang of the late, great Ali Farka Touré, the mournful, loping grooves of Tinariwen and the ecstatic melodic runs of Salif Keita all come to mind.
It’s genuinely dumbfounding that certain forces haven’t learned from history: one thing you can’t kill is music and here, Touré’s music is the sound of grace under pressure. The smile on the front cover says it quite well.