Sidi Touré is a highly acclaimed practitioner of Songhaï Music with two Malian National Arts Awards for best singer. Touré led Gao’s regional orchestra, The Songhaï Stars, prior to going out on his own. In 2011, he released Sahel Folk, his debut album for Thrill Jockey, touring North America and Europe for the first time. For his fourth release, Toubalbero (a big traditional drum used to call and gather people in Gao) Touré has created a danceable, dynamic, and joyous album played with some of the most exciting new faces on the Mailian music scene. A revered leader who has his feet deep in the Northern Mali music tradition has created an album, despite the region’s significant political challenges, that brims with optimism.
For his first electro-acoustic album, Sidi Touré (vocals, guitar and calabash) is joined by bassist Baba Traoré, drummer Mamadou “Mandou” Kone (who also plays with Vieux Farka Touré), electric guitarist Djadjé Traoré, N’Goni player (traditional Malian guitar) Ousmane “Papou” Dagnon, and vocalist Babou Diallo. This is a reflection of his performance style of the last three years throughout Mali. The music is a celebration driven by the energy and groove of the rhythms. Toubalbero is exhilarating trance music overflowing with joy and carried by the beauty of Sidi’s voice.
Previous Sidi Touré albums were recorded in a modest tin-roofed studio in Bamako. The recording sessions have to be timed around Mali’s rainy season due to the noise from the rain pelting the roof. Toubalbero was recorded over the course of four days at Studio Bogolan, one of the best in Mali where artists that include Ali Farka Touré, Rokia Traoré, Toumani Diabate and Björk have recorded. The album was recorded by Yaya Cissé and produced by Nicolas “Covalesky” Richard. The songs were recorded live to tape in order to capture the energy of the performance. The album was also mixed entirely live by Jason Meagher at Black Dirt Studio (Steve Gunn, Jack Rose). The approach mirrored the live mix of a performance. Much as mixes by the great King Tubby, it retains all the joy and energy of a gig.
The songs are steeped in Malian culture and traditions. “Hendjero Moulaye” (the slippery fish) is a whimsical cautionary tale not unlike the western folksy idiom “don’t count your chickens before they’ve hatched.” In this, we hear of the perils of a man who bragged about his very big fish while on the way to catch it, warning to not sell your fish before you get it from the river. “BK” is an homage to Baba Belkatras, a legend of Songhai music. “Tchirey” is about the kings of the Holleys, the djinn of thunder. For Sidi, it is a call for help from Marou Tchirey for the Songhai people. Sidi wrote this song in 1984 and it won the Bamako Biennale. It was the first time that Vaudou (possession) Songhai songs were played with non-traditional instruments. There are songs of love: “DJiribi Mardjie,” and “Handaraïzo” (the small star), and of family: “Hannah” (the vigil for a newborn) and “Sitiali Boubou” (honoring the ancestor). Perhaps the song that captures the spirit of the album most clearly is “Heyyeya,” an expression to describe a shout of joy. It is based on a Songhai folklore song about the joy of a new marriage. It is a celebration of the beauty of this moment of pure happiness.
Sidi Touré’s Toubalbero is an exuberant and irresistible call out for unity and peace for Malians and Africans. Much like the drum that gathers folks in Goa, this album’s aim is to unite through joyous expression for the greater good of all. Unity is strength and joy is unstoppable.
Sidi Touré will be touring throughout 2018. Since his debut album, he has performed at leading world music festivals in Germany, France, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. He has performed at New York’s Lincoln Center, Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and even as far as the Herring Auditorium in Fairbanks Alaska.