On tour to promote “Koima,” his second full-length album for indie label Thrill Jockey, Malian guitarist Sidi Toure will bring his message of peace and stories of home to Millheim on Aug. 5 with a performance of his so-called “Songhai blues.”
Speaking through translator Karima Daoudi, Toure emphasized that Songhai blues is “a different kind of folkloric music of the Songhai people. The different media has named it the ‘blues.’ ”
An homage to his homeland of Gao, in northern Mali, “Koima” recalls a sacred, well-known pink-colored dune that attracts the world’s most powerful wizards. The album’s theme is multilayered: In addition to its geographic reference, Its title translates to “listen to the sound of the sorcerers, go listen to the music,” Toure said.
In re-creating the live sound, Toure is accompanied by a guitarist, calabash player, traditional violin player and a singer. The result is a collection of sparse, sharp and soulful melodies. The magic that resides in his intimate and intricate songs sounds different than one might hear in the music of American blues legends Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker, whom Toure pays homage to. But the sadness and emotion is evident.
“It’s known that in America, when Africans were brought to America, they brought the music they played,” he said. “It’s really the same thing in (my) mind. ... It’s the same music but with different names.”
During the interview Toure speaks French, one of the languages of Mali, but his songs are sung in Songhai. If one doesn’t understand the lyrics, is the song’s meaning lost?
“It’s the musical style that matters,” he said. “The lyrics are very important, but when (I’m) writing the songs, (I) find it easier to write lyrics when (I) have a melody in mind. People listen to music in either the melody or vibe, or it can be the actually lyrics, so for (me), it all has to come together.”
While there may be wisdom to be gained in hearing the messages of the sorcerers, there’s a hint of sadness in Toure’s songs. Gao is his home, but he now lives in the capital city of Bamako.
“One of the themes (on “Koima”) is about being nostalgic, thinking about (my) hometown and the people who raised (me),” Toure said. “It’s important to sing about now with all the problems going on in Mali ... and (my) home, Gao, which is being occupied by terrorists.”
Toure said he is free to return to Gao but that he doesn’t feel safe.
“There are arms everywhere,” he said.
A tour of North America — including shows in New York, Philadelphia and Alberta, Canada — is helping Toure and his traveling musicians to spread a message of peace.
“I think the tour helps promote Songhai culture, and between the songs (I) do explain the meanings behind the songs,” he said. “It’s more than just music, it’s also learning about the culture and what’s important to his people.
“(I) want to let everyone know that (I) and Malians just want peace in our country now and we really want to see that restored. (I) have written a new song called ‘Peace in Mali.’ It’s not recorded yet, but (I’ve) been singing that on tour.”
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Sidi Toure will perform at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 at Elk Creek Cafe + Alehouse, 100 W. Main St., Millheim. Visit www.elkcreek.net or call 349-8850 for more information.