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Albums of the Year 2020: Songhoy Blues - Optimisme | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2020: Songhoy Blues - Optimisme

Albums of the Year 2020: Songhoy Blues - Optimisme

Mali’s unlikely musical superstars speak truth to power while moving hips and feet

Songhoy Blues: upbeat and unrelentingly positive

If there’s been one thing that has coloured the UK music scene in 2020, it’s been the lack of any type of performance in front of a living, breathing and sweating audience for much of the year. Who was to know back at the beginning of January that we would only have about nine weeks to get in all of our gig-going? Fortunately, I managed to see a handful of concerts during this time and the most glorious by a country mile was Slipknot’s show in Birmingham.

Despite taking place in a huge barn-like venue, Iowa’s arch misanthropes put on a fierce, attention-grabbing performance of extreme energy, theatrics and volume that laid out a barrel-load of fine tunes. It was certainly more than enough to keep the 16,000 or so Magots present more than happy, that’s for sure.

One song that could have been written as an elegy for 2020, even if it didn’t actually mention the plague, and that has proved an enduring favourite since its August release, was “Sugar Smacks” by Jerry Joseph, backed by the Drive-By Truckers. A stream of consciousness prose poem, fuelled by strummed guitars and a simmering rage about “the fascists in the White House”, #MeToo, Mexican drug gangs, BLM, the plight of the Palestinian people and a host of other injustices, it’s certainly no rose-tinted view of our present predicament. Nor is it a childish teenage tantrum, but a considered reflection of a world that desperately needs some serious TLC.

Songhoy Blues' album, Optimisme, however, is easily my album of this year. While Aliou Touré and his crew took on similar subject matter to Jerry Joseph, if from an African perspective, the Malian superstars’ approach couldn’t have been more different from the grouchy American troubadour. Upbeat, unrelentingly positive and optimistic in its take-down of the rich, powerful and corrupt, Optimisme is a hip-swinging joy from the first notes of the almost punky “Badala” to the final fade out of the soulful “Kouma”. This multi-lingual album, with Songhoy, French and English lyrics, is a truly mesmerising and life-affirming piece of work that is more than enough to get anyone bouncing around at home while we all wait to return to the dancefloor with like-minded folk who are similarly out to make serious merry sometime in the next few months.

Two More Essential Albums of 2020

BlackLab – Abyss

AK/DK – Shared Particles

Musical Experience of the Year

Slipknot at Arena, Birmingham

Track of the Year

Jerry Joseph – Sugar Smacks

This multi-lingual album is a truly mesmerising and life-affirming piece of work that is more than enough to get anyone bouncing around


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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