Music Reviews
4:45 pm
Mon June 11, 2012

Sidi Touré And The Sonic Heritage Of The Sahara

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 1:42 pm

It's easy to romanticize the Sahara — a vast expanse of sand organized around the northern reaches of the Niger River. Part of that romance is captured in the music of singer and guitarist Sidi Touré, who composes songs in the folkloric tradition of the Songhaï people.

His new album of desert chamber music, Koïma, harkens back to the glory days of the Songhaï Empire, which ruled much of the region from the city of Gao in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Many of Touré's songs express nostalgia for that bygone era. Today, one might also feel a hankering for the peaceful coexistence that this region's peoples enjoyed until recently. In March, Tuareg rebels swept the city of Gao into a self-proclaimed Tuareg homeland that they are calling Azawad. But the sedentary Songhaï and nomadic Tuareg have lived side by side for centuries, and share much — including, in recent times, a reputation for creating highly distinctive guitar music.

Songhaï music is delicate and rhythmically complex. When Sidi Touré plays and sings on his own, you can feel him channeling ancient folklore through the modern filter of an acoustic guitar. A couple of songs on Koïma make a nod to the blues — an easy leap for this dry, dusty, lonely music.

Maybe the most beautiful thing about Songhaï music is its multilayered rhythms, where slow and fast tempos and even different time signatures coexist in a subtle, shifting flow. That mysterious duality is endlessly fascinating to the ear, and also a fitting metaphor for the current cultural drama unfolding in and around Gao. In music and in life, contradictory truths coexist, and the challenge is to find a balance — as Touré does so beautifully on Koïma.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The music of singer and guitarist Sidi Toure is steeped in the folkloric traditions of the Sahara Desert. Toure's hometown, Gao, is officially part of Mali, although it's currently held by rebel forces.

Reviewer Banning Eyre says Toure's new album, "Koima", both reflects the region's rich history and offers some perspective on the struggle now unfolding there.

BANNING EYRE: It's easy to romanticize the Sahara, a vast expanse of sand organized around the northern reaches of the Niger River. The music we're hearing is part of that romance. It's desert chamber music harking back to the glory days of the Songhai Empire, which ruled from the city of Gao in the 15th and 16th centuries.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIDI TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Many of Sidi Toure's songs express nostalgia for that bygone era. Today, one might also feel a hankering for the peaceful coexistence this region's people enjoyed until recently.

In March, rebel forces swept the city of Gao into a self-proclaimed Tuareg homeland they're calling Azawad. The sedentary Songhai and the nomadic Tuareg have lived side-by-side for centuries and share much including, in recent times, a reputation for creating highly distinctive guitar music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Songhai music is delicate and rhythmically complex. And when Sidi Toure plays and sings on his own, you can feel him channeling ancient folklore through the modern filter of an acoustic guitar. A couple of songs on "Koima" make a nod to the blues, an easy leap for this dry, dusty, lonely music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Maybe the most beautiful thing about Songhai music is its multilayered rhythms, where different tempos and even time signatures coexist in a subtle, shifting flow. That mysterious duality is endlessly fascinating to the ear and also a fitting metaphor for the current cultural drama unfolding in and around Gao. In music and in life, contradictory truths coexist and the challenge is to find a balance, as Toure does so beautifully on "Koima."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

CORNISH: Banning Eyre is senior editor at AfroPop.org. He reviewed "Koima" by Sidi Toure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.