The recent devastating events in Mali have already prompted significant artistic responses from the likes of Bassekou Kouyate and Rokia Traoré. But this album by desert bluesman Samba Touré is perhaps the most profound reaction yet to a crisis that’s threatened to rip the heart out of the country. Bristling with a fecund mixture of righteous anger, bitter remorse and stubborn defiance, it’s the work of a man whose artistic vision has been brought into sharp focus by the brutal violence in his North Mali homeland.
Mali has endured a lot of late. A military coup in 2012 brought an abrupt end to democracy in the country – once seen as a model for the whole of Africa – destabilising the north in the process and leaving it to the mercy of Islamic extremists, who declared independence and enforced strict Sharia law. It took the might of the French military to overwhelm the extremists, although things still remain unstable.
Inevitably, there are reminders of Mali's greatest guitarist, the late Ali Farka Touré, in this gently rhythmic but thoughtful and brooding set. Samba was once a member of Ali Farka's band, and was more recently invited by Toumani Diabaté to recreate his mentor's work on his Ali Farka Touré Variations tour. But Samba has a style and a message of his own, and his latest album of desert blues is a reflection on the continuing upheavals in his country.
The current conflict in Mali has meant that many musicians have fear picking up their instruments should they be targeted by Islamist militia for breaking sharia law. The situation is a major blow for a country where the culture is so rich and music is such a large part of people's way of life. This tension is captured on the latest release from Malian guitarist Samba Touré, whose playing fizzes with rebellious menace throughout.