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Sidi Toure - Alafia

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Artist: Sidi Toure

Album: Alafia

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Oct. 7, 2013

Sidi Touré hails from Gao, a city in the northwestern sector of Mali, which has changed hands three times since March 2012. First Tuareg rebels booted out the Malian government; then Ansar Dine, the Islamist Tuareg movement, ejected the MNLA, a less ideologically unified confederation of Tuareg resistance movements; and then the French took possession in January 2013. This means, amongst other things, that his hometown has been controlled by people willing to lop body parts off of people who play music. Thus Touré, a man who once led Gao’s regional orchestra and didn’t bother to mount a concerted effort to build a career outside of his homeland until a few years ago, found himself in exile.

Since Touré sings mostly in Songhaï on Alafia and the record has no lyric sheet, it’s not clear exactly what he has to say about these matters. But there are plenty of clues that they are on his mind. The album’s title translates as Peace, and song titles like “La Paix” (French for “Peace”), “Ir Wangarey (The Army),” and “Boro Ganda (My Land).” Whether he has been influenced by touring in the US and Europe, or just wants to speak out to the wider world, Touré is incorporating sounds from further afield into his music. On a couple tunes, he sings a line or two in English; “Gandyey (The Spirits)” calls for peace, and the heavily accented proclamation “I like you, my country” punctuates the Songhaï singing and mellifluous guitar and n’goni solos on “Mali.” The n’goni and Cheick Diallo’s flute indicate that Touré is going for a more pan-Malian sound; whether that matters to you or not, they give Alafia a more varied sound that its predecessor without sacrificing the propulsive, calabash-driven feel of its predecessor of its immediate predecessor Koïma. Unlike the rather shambolic group he brought on his first US tour, the ensemble on Alafia is tight and deferent to Touré throughout, and he willingly steps into the spotlight. But the persona projected by his voice and the flowing acoustic arrangements is not of an ego-driven star, but of a guy who wants to bring people together. I miss the unhurried intimacy of Touré’s first Thrill Jockey record, Sahel Folk, but these are not times for people to sit back and pick guitars over cups of tea, and he knows it. If music can heal and unite, he’s doing his part.

By Bill Meyer

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