Newcomer: 2016 Winner
Music in Exile on Transgressive Records
We have the armed jihadists who banned music when they took control of northern Mali in 2012 to thank for the existence of Songhoy Blues. Guitarist Garba Toure - whose father was a percussionist in Ali Farka Toure's band - realised it wasn't going to be a safe or pleasant thing to hang around Timbuktu, and like thousands of other refugees, he grabbed a bag and his guitar and boarded the first bus to Bamako. There he formed Songhoy Blues with fellow exiles Aliou Touré and Oumar Toure, subsequently joined by drummer Nathanael Dembele.
Their first recording with American guitarist-producer Nick Zinner was trailed on the Africa Express compilation Maison des Jeunes, to which they contributed the standout track. Music in Exile, their full-length debut - again produced by Zinner, with assistance from their French manager Marc-Antoine Moreau, fully lives up to their promise as the new, rocking sound of Mali, dramatically propelling traditional African desert blues into a 21st-century urban setting.
It earned them the front cover of Songlines, but the dynamic rock'n'roll heft of the recording also crossed over to receive rave reviews in rock mags such as NME, Uncut and Mojo.
By Nigel Williamson