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Live: Songhoy Blues, Kendal Brewery Arts Centre

I’d been waiting a while for this. My only previous (non) acquaintance with Mali’s finest came after a disappointing set from Unknown Mortal Orchestra at Green Man Festival a couple of years ago after which a friend breathlessly informed me that at the same time he had just seen Songhoy Blues “rip it up” on the Mountain stage and I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

They didn’t disappoint.

Members of Songhoy Blues are regularly quoted as thoroughly disliking the expression “World Music” and it’s clear why they dismiss the notion of being straightjacketed based on their birthplace. They no more represent a pigeonholed version of what African music represents than Can reflect an image of Germany.

After a brisk, desert blues opener ‘Jolie’  the range of the band’s disparate influences flow seamlessly through the set; New Orleans/ old school grooves, playful Trojan label –type reggae melodies and gloriously swampish heavier dub workouts that could have been lifted from ‘Heart of the Congos’. They fuse this with the kind of airy, laid back North African/South East Asian funk passages that the likes of Khruangbin have brought to popular attention.

To dwell in depth on the band’s sphere of influence, however, would be to miss the point as Songhoy Blues are not interested in the cerebral. They focus their attack squarely on our more instinctively joyous expressions of appreciation – clap, move, dance, laugh – and tonight, one meandering slow blues aside, they unerringly hit the target.  If you can find a pulse you can find a place in your heart for Songhoy Blues.

Tony Curran.