Archive for category Music

The music in my head (part 2): West Africa and beyond


To add to my most recent piece about the music of Mali, here’s a great piece from That’s How the Light Gets In on West African music (with a strong emphasis on Mali, naturally!)

Originally posted on That's How The Light Gets In:

This is the second of three posts which round up some of the music that I’ve enjoyed in 2015 but never got round to writing about. This one discussed music from beyond these shores that I have been listening to in 2015, particularly some fine West African releases.

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Mali is Music

We should probably have been in a courtyard in Bamako, or Segou. Whole families there, kids and the occasional chicken wandering in and out, meals being prepared and eaten, and the music going on into the night, interspersed with talk, and laughter. We were instead in the august surroundings of Firth Hall at the University of Sheffield, sitting in rows listening to Bassekou Kouyate, legendary Malian ngoni player and griot, with his wife Amy Sacko on vocals, in conversation with Andy Morgan.


As the time went on, you could almost hear the thought processes of the audience – ‘what time was that last bus again?’, ‘I’m going to struggle with my 7.00 alarm tomorrow morning’, ‘Can I discreetly text the babysitter to see if she can hold on for another hour?’. So when people started to slip away, they’d already stayed longer than they’d expected to, and they left wishing they could have stayed longer. We managed quite a nifty slip out of the door whilst clapping manoeuvre. A standing and moving sideways ovation perhaps.

Part of the reason we overran was that Bassekou speaks French and Bambara, so Andy had to tell us what he was going to ask him, then ask him in French, then translate Bassekou’s response. And – a tip for the future – don’t ask a Malian griot to ‘just tell us briefly what that song was about’. Whereas a western musician might be able to say, ‘cars and girls’, or ‘the man who done me wrong’, Bassekou’s answers tended to start with, ‘Well, back in the 13th century there was a king called x, in the town of y…’.

But the music – the music was sublime. The ngoni is a stringed instrument, believed to be the origin of the banjo, and possibly the guitar (though of course there are other stringed, plucked instruments that could claim that). In Kouyate’s hands it’s capable of virtuosic cascades of notes, and combined with the compelling rhythm that kicks in after the first few bars, and the warmth (and impressive range) of Amy Sacko’s voice, it’s music that moves the feet and the hips, as well as the heart.

Malian music makes me happier than almost any other music from any time or place. It’s the source of the blues, carried over the oceans by the human cargo of the slave ships, and mutating as it mixed with the other folk musics (and the hymns and psalms) of the various peoples of the Americas, until this black American music out of Africa became the music of a whole generation. And as it did so, of course, it travelled back home again. In Ghana the merging and melding of these musical traditions created the highlife music that I used to hear wafting over from the student residences in the evenings in Kumasi. In Nigeria, juju music and Afrobeat. In Mali, a rich diversity of music, from such fine artists as Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate, Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure, and the young musicians who form Songhoy Blues.


At the end of the  concert, Bassekou Kouyate was asked by a fellow West African about the ‘problem’ of western sounds and musical styles taking over indigenous African music. Kouyate was having none of that. The music is theirs anyway – it’s simply coming home again, having changed a bit over the years, and blended with other sounds. There is a vast repertoire of songs there to be rediscovered, interpreted, shared with the world, and as long as this music is being sung and played, and the traditional instruments are being used alongside the western imports, the music will survive, because it’s strong and beautiful. The threat to this music is not of being ‘polluted’ or drowned out by western sounds. It’s from another source altogether, the fundamentalist Islamist groups that have taken over parts of Mali in recent years and where they have done so they have violently suppressed music – not western music, or secular music, but music.

“The world without music? It would be like a prison, right?” (Garba Touré, Songhoy Blues)



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Ears still ringing


That’s what Billy Bragg tweeted, after his set at the Leadmill, which brought [my] 2015 Tramlines to an inspiring and emotional close.  Mine too.  It was bloody brilliant.

wristbandFor me, Tramlines isn’t about the headliners – we didn’t get to the Ponderosa this year, not because there weren’t some great bands on, but because what we love is stumbling across and being delighted by bands we’ve never heard of, and enjoying the music in the multiplicity of venues around the city centre.  To go from dancing to ska and afrobeat in the Peace Gardens to drinking Moonshine in the Cathedral (how deliciously transgressive is that) whilst listening to ‘experimental finger-style’ acoustic guitar, or rocking our socks off in the City Hall ballroom – that’s Tramlines.

I don’t know what the total numbers were, but the crowds around town were astonishing.  So many performers, looking out at us all from the various stages, seemed genuinely stunned by how many of us there were, and by our enthusiasm, our willingness to jump about, dance and cheer.  Maybe I’m naive, maybe I only see the best because I love my city and I love this festival, but there didn’t seem to be, despite the crowds and the fact that there had, most certainly, been drink taken, the level of ugliness that one might normally see on a Saturday night in town. I saw no aggression, only people being communal, enjoying the music together, being excellent to one another, and partying on.

lewrey downtown roots soulcrates

My Tramlines this year was:

  • Friday night:  Awooga, Lone Wolf (City Hall); Rawshack, Beth Frisby (Millennium Gallery)
  • Saturday: Bongo & the Soul Jars, Soulcrates Syndicate (Peace Gardens); Jim Ghedi (Cathedral); Smiling Ivy. Hot Diamond Aces (Cathedral); Blessa, Slow Club (Devonshire Green); Ultimate Painting (Cathedral)
  • Sunday: Chris Cooper Band, Downtown Roots (City Hall); Lewrey, Blossomer (Cathedral); Stealing Sheep, Billy Bragg (Leadmill)

Not a bad weekend’s worth of music and I reckon I got my weekend ticket’s worth by the time we headed home on Friday.

Best bits?  Beth Frisby was fab.  The various ska/afrobeat bands in the (sunny) Peace Gardens were ace, joyous beats making us all dance.  Downtown Roots were a blast, channelling Hendrix and Muddy Waters.  Stealing Sheep stole my heart.  And then there was Billy.


It was late, I was tired, my (wet) feet hurt.  But I went home that night not sure whether to laugh, or cry, because Billy made me do both.  He was everything I’d hoped for – he was funny, passionate, ranty, utterly professional (didn’t miss a beat when the lights went out on stage during one song, and dealt well with the odd minor heckle), and gave us – again – that weekend ticket’s worth singlehanded.    I got right to the front, thanks to the nice bloke who let me through.  And the young lads who’d been obliviously hemming me in and blocking my view earlier?  Contrary to the grumpy views being expressed by some of those whose view they were blocking, they were there for Billy, they knew all the words, they were singing their little hearts out.  He gave us the love songs, the quirky, funny, self deprecating love songs.  He gave us Levi Stubbs’ tears, and mine flowed.  He gave us the protest songs – and lord, they are as pertinent today as when they were written.  He gave us A New England.  And he gave us Between the Wars and I cried again and someone in the crowd gave me a hug, just because.

Billy said that the enemy is not doubt, or scepticism.  It’s cynicism.  Cynicism stops us believing that we can change things, that it’s worth bothering to try.  Cynicism stops us believing the best in other people, or the potential in ourselves.  There wasn’t much cynicism in evidence last weekend, and especially not at the Leadmill on Sunday night.

To quote Caitlin Moran (in How to Build a Girl), ‘Cynicism is, ultimately, fear.  Cynicism makes contact with your skin, and a thick black carapace begins to grow – like insect armour.  This armour will protect your heart, from disappointment – but it leaves you almost unable to walk.  You cannot dance, in this armour.’  If we want to dance, to laugh and love and share, let alone if we want to change the world, we have to shed that armour and risk being disappointed, risk being disillusioned and let down.

Billy said that we, in the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire, had ‘recharged his activism’.  I am damn certain he did the same for us.

Tramlines, Sheffield, thank you for last weekend, and I can’t wait for next time.  Early Bird weekend tickets for 2016 on sale now, you say?  Hell, yes.


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Refugee Blues – #RefugeesContribute

One of the glorious by-products of the movements of peoples around the world, however grim the reasons, is the music.  Music can cross any barriers, transcend any divisions, no translation required. People driven from their homes make take very little with them, but the songs they grew up with, the music they danced to or played, those weigh nothing.  And they enrich the communities in which those people find new homes – music that moves our hearts, our hips, our feet, that comes from places we’ve never seen, with lyrics in languages we don’t speak.  Music is vital.

That’s one of the reasons why watching Abderrahmane Sissako’s latest film, Timbuktu, is so intense and so harrowing.  The ISIL/Taliban group who have taken over Timbuktu spend their evenings listening out for any sounds of music and silencing it.   You could say that there are worse things – this regime does those too, stoning to death a couple accused of adultery.  But killing music is a way of killing the soul.

Timbuktu_poster timbuktu. timbuktu2

The young musicians who make up Songhoy Blues fled their homes in the north of Mali and since then have been taking their desert blues around the world.  They’re doing Glasto next week, but last July at Sheffield’s Tramlines festival I saw them play live and they made me dance, made me smile like an idiot, made me cry a little, when Aliou Toure spoke about his country, his continent, and what the music stood for – peace, love, unity.

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2014 – some of the best bits

Some of the cultural highlights of my year – a year of working at home, long train journeys to long meetings which gave me more time to read, less time to go to the cinema or the theatre.   However, I did manage a few outings…

  • Twelfth Night at the Crucible – a real delight.  I’d been disappointed that we weren’t getting a tragedy or one of the problem plays, rather than a comedy that I’d seen on stage before, but that feeling evaporated very quickly indeed.  The performances were excellent, the staging imaginative and suggestive of darker undercurrents (the cast appearing at windows almost like the undead, the showers of rose petals  – see also Poppeia).
  • Brilliant opera at Leeds Grand – La Boheme,  and The Coronation of Poppeia.  And another Boheme, this time in Graves Gallery, from Opera on Location. 

poppeia la boheme

  • Tramlines!
  • Music in the Round – I’d pick out the Schubert octet, Tim Horton’s bravura performance of the Prokofiev Piano Sonata no. 7 (described by the Guardian as ‘ferocious’),  Charlie Piper‘s WWI suite, The Dark Hour; works by Schulhoff & Haas, and consort of viols, Fretwork.
  • Once again we celebrated Tim Richardson’s life and passion for learning and teaching with the 24 Hour Inspire – 24 hours of lectures on a host of topics, from WWI poets to insect sex, from biogeography to Mozart, from underground science to fairground history – ok, you get the picture.  Once again a host of people stepped up to help, everything ran smoothly, and we were able to donate to Rotherham Hospice and Impact Young Heroes.  We’ll be doing it again on 16-17 April 2015.  Tim’s charity, Inspiration for Lifegoes from strength to strength.
  • I revisited the City Ground after far too many years, for the first home game of the season, and Stuart Pearce’s first game as manager.  That was a great game.  We’re in a slump at the moment, and that early euphoria has dissipated.   If it was anyone but Psycho in charge I suspect the calls to sack the manager would be ringing out right now, but few Forest fans would want to deny him the chance to turn things around.  I hope he can.  I really, really, hope he can.

Top TV of 2014

No attempt at ranking.  How could one decide on the relative merits of a gritty cop drama and a comic book fantasy?  So, what do all of these shows have in common?  First, excellent writing, and great performances.  Essential to have both.  So many big budget dramas skimp on the former and blow the budget on the latter, but even the best actors can only do so much with a script that clunks.  Second, great female characters.  All of these programmes  basically kick the Bechdel test out of the park.   It’s not just about having ‘strong’ women.  Not all women are strong, and no women are strong all of the time.  It’s about having women characters who are rounded human beings, fallible and flawed, but not dependent on men to make decisions or to solve problems.   Some of these women do indeed kick ass, but they don’t all have to.  So, to Nazanin Boniadi, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Amelia Bullmore, Lauren Cohan, Clare Danes, Siobhan Finneran, Danai Gurira, Keeley Hawes, Elizabeth Henstridge, Gillian Jacobs, Suranne Jones, Nimrat Kaur, Sarah Lancashire, Melissa McBride, Vicky McClure, Tatiana Maslany, Lesley Sharp, Allison Tolmin, Ming-Na Wen and the rest – cheers, and thanks for giving us images of women that are as diverse and complicated as actual real live women are.

orphan line of duty happy valley mollyhomeland scott & baileycarol community shield

  1. Fargo – I was decidedly unconvinced beforehand, but it turned out to be funny, gruesome, and touching, with one of my favourite women cops in Allison Tolmin’s Molly (not just a re-run of Frances McDormand’s marvellous Marge from the film, but a character in her own right), Billy Bob Thornton as a grimly hilarious killer and Martin Freeman as a weaselly one, and a wealth of other characters, some of whom we came to care about so much that at tense moments there was much yelling at the screen as we thought they might be in danger.
  2. Line of Duty – I wasn’t convinced about this one either, mainly because the first series had been superb, and I wondered if they could match it.  They did,  and it was Keeley Hawes’ performance that clinched it.  Whilst I’d watch Vicky McClure in anything, Keeley wasn’t in that category for me, despite Ashes to Ashes.  But in this she was riveting, absolutely mesmerising.   The rest of the cast was superb too.
  3. Happy Valley was perhaps the most ironically titled programme of the year.  This valley was pretty damned grim.  But Sarah Lancashire as cop Catherine Cawood was wonderful, and the story was compelling and moving.
  4. Scott & Bailey maintained its form in series 4.  The three central women (count them!  three central women!) are all convincingly real, sometimes infuriatingly so.
  5. The Walking Dead opened series 5 with an episode so gripping that I really could neither breathe normally nor speak for quite some time.   It’s maintained that tension (more or less) whilst varying the format, to focus on different subsets of the characters, and different locations.   Carol has been central to this season’s episodes so far, and her character is one of those that has been allowed to develop and deepen throughout.  There’s no shortage of other interesting characters, and the plot allows for philosophical, political and ethical speculation as well as for gory shocks and suspense.
  6. Agents of Shield got past a slightly wobbly first series and got its pace and tone just right.  It fits right into the Marvelverse, but stands alone perfectly well.  And it features girl-geek Simmons, a Sheffield lass, and there’s just a hint of South Yorkshire in her accent from time to time.
  7. Community made me laugh more than anything else this year.   Just when you think it is as bonkers as it could be, it ups its game, to be even more meta, and even more daft.
  8. Doctor Who I have spoken of elsewhere.  I have a deep love for this programme, and whilst this regeneration has been unsettling at times, uncertain in tone perhaps, I have great hopes for Capaldi and Coleman in series 9 next year.
  9. Homeland redeemed itself.   Gripping stuff, with Clare Danes acting her socks off and getting us deeper into what makes Carrie tick.
  10. Orphan Black is one of the most criminally underrated programmes of this (and last) year.  Tatiana Maslany inhabits each of the characters she plays so well that I forget – disbelieve almost – that there is just the one actress involved.   And when she’s playing one of them pretending to be one of the others….  Cracking plot too.

Films of the year – I leave the in-depth cinematic  reviews to Arthur Annabel who promises an extensive blog on this topic soon.   I simply note these as films which have delighted and/or moved me, in no particular order.  Worth noting that whilst the programmes on my TV list get A* on the Bechdel test, the films are considerably weaker on that front.   Nonetheless, some fine performances, and Nicole Perlman was the first woman with a writing credit on a Marvel movie (Guardians of the Galaxy).

guardians 2 cap america x men lego dallas white ribbon mr turner  slavedragonaurielcornelia

Women of the year:

  Jack Monroe – for enlivening my repertoire of meals to feed the family, and campaigning about food poverty

Professor Monica Grady – for being emotionally, exuberantly passionate about science

kate Kate Bush – for doing it her way, as always

fahma Fahma Mohamed – for telling men three times her age what they needed to be told about FGM and how to protect young women in the UK

malala Malala Yousafzai – it’s all been said really.  A young woman of remarkable maturity and dignity, as well as courage.

adedevoh Dr Ameyo Adadevoh – helped to curb the spread of Ebola by quarantining a patient in the face of pressure from his government, but succumbed to the disease herself


laura bates Laura Bates – her Everyday Sexism project helped to give women a voice, to tell their stories, to shout back.

In 2014 I’ve blogged about refugees, genocide, footballW G Sebald and Michel Butor, Kazuo Ishiguro, everyday sexism, Tramlines, Josephine Butler and Doctor Who.  I got a bit personal on the subject of depression, and was inspired by Caitlin Moran’s How to Build a Girl to present my manifesto – a plea to just be kind. And my blog about reading the last of the Resnick series of detective stories won the approval of the author, John Harvey, who linked to it on his own blog, and republished my jazz playlist!

Amongst the blogs I’ve followed, or at least tried to keep up with, I would particularly note Searching for Albion.  This is the record of Dan Taylor’s four month cycling trip across the British Isles, talking to people he meets, by plan or by chance.  A fascinating project, beautifully documented.

To all of those who’ve shared some of the above events, obsessions and enthusiasms with me, who’ve given me support when I’ve needed it, who I’ve learned from and with, thank you.   I don’t know what to expect from 2015 – but see you there!


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Blues for Charlie – on reading the last Resnick

We go back a fair few years, Charlie and me. Pretty much instant, the connection, the attraction too.  We had things in common – places (I lived near Nottingham as a teenager, so my Nottingham wasn’t his – it was the Playhouse, Goose Fair, the City Ground, and the shops), music (listening to Miles as I write this), cats (ours was called Mingus. RIP), football (I was on the Trent End, still loyal to the Reds to this day, glory days long past, whilst he’s a County man).

Never very lucky in love, our Charlie. But attractive to women, no question.  That crumpled, rumpled melancholy hard to resist – had we met in person, I’d have spectacularly failed to do so – but making it work in the long term, a lot tougher.  He nearly found that, so very nearly, and it broke my heart when…  but I won’t say, in case you don’t know, and if you don’t, you need to go back, as I’ve just done, to Lonely Hearts, and make his acquaintance for yourself, and follow him through the years, through to Darkness, Darkness.

I won’t say much about Darkness, Darkness, except that, as so many reviewers have already said, it’s a fitting coda to the series.  It focuses on the miners’ strike – an event which still reverberates in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire, so that Nottingham football supporters still get called scabs by Yorkshire football supporters, though in both cases their parents were toddlers, if that,  at the time of the strike – but it encompasses so much more.  It’s an elegy really, a blues for Charlie.

darkness darkness

So many of the cops whose investigations we follow on screen or on the page seem to be constructed according to a formula.  A bit of (preferably traumatic) back story, a few quirks (an addiction, past or current, an obsession), and a tendency to go off piste, to break the rules.  That can work – Rachel Bailey comes storming off the screen and the page (in Cath Staincliffe’s excellent novels) and into real life, so that when she (inevitably) does something monumentally daft, we, along with her long-suffering colleagues and friends, want to yell at her, shake her into common sense.  The best ones, the ones we re-read even when we remember exactly who dunnit, where, why and how, turn that formula into someone we can invest in, not just in their ability to put the bad guy behind bars, but in their humanity, their vulnerability, their emotional life. And Charlie is one of the best, no question.    Of course he has a back story (a broken marriage, nothing out of the ordinary), and a few quirks (his tendency to wear his most recent meal on his shirt front or his tie, for example).  But he’s a rounded (and that’s not a crack about his waistline), nuanced, complicated character,

And so many of the narratives of crime and punishment that we consume rely on convoluted plots – plots not just in the sense of the narrative arc,  but machinations, devilishly clever serial killers, hidden identities, etc.  All very enjoyable, but bearing, one imagines, little relation to the day to day of policing.  We suspend our disbelief, accept for the duration that in the picture postcard villages of Midsomer a deranged serial killer lurks behind every cottage doorway, or that the academics of Oxford are busier plotting their next murder than preparing their next research bid.   The volume and the type of crime here is a tad more realistic, Charlie’s cases are more likely to involve cock-ups than conspiracies, individuals with chaotic lives committing chaotic crimes, often with consequences they could never have imagined.  It’s not that there aren’t any serial killers, or any conspiracies, but they are interwoven with the mundanity, the banality, of ‘normal’ urban crime.

The other trope that those of us who watch the detectives can get a bit weary of, or even sickened by, is the reliance on sexual violence as a plot device.  Again, this does feature in Charlie’s caseload over the years, as you’d expect.  But there’s nothing sexy, nothing titillating here.  The reality of rape and the fear of rape, the murky areas of human sexuality, the casual violence of language used towards women, are all shown clear-sightedly and compassionately, through Charlie’s eyes.  It’s not that he’s so very PC.   But his attractiveness to women isn’t just about his crumpled melancholy, it’s about his instinctive respect, his empathy.  Even when he’s getting it wrong (as he does, often), fundamentally he’s a good man, someone you could lean on, trust.  Those murky areas, and how fiction deals with them, are not just sub-text either – in both Living Proof and Still Water we confront them head on.

There’s so much humanity in these stories.  And there’s music of course, flowing through them.  There’s Millington’s regular assaults on the Petula Clark songbook, the bands at the Polish Club where Charlie dances with Marian, or the Otis Redding track that was playing when he met Elaine… But it’s the jazz that’s vital.  It’s integral, it’s the atmosphere, those blue notes echoing Charlie’s melancholy, bringing out the noir on Nottingham’s mean streets. It’s the soundtrack to what we see of his life, to the daily grappling with petty crime, dysfunctional families, and the viciousness and brutality of which human beings are capable, and with the politics of policing, the admin, the power play.  He goes home, and he finds a record, a track, that echoes his mood and as the music is described we can almost believe we’re hearing it too, the descriptions so vivid, so perceptive.

And so it seemed fitting, as I re-read the books, focusing less on the plot and more on the atmosphere, the background, the soundtrack, to put together a little playlist.  One song for each novel.  I hope Charlie would approve.

‘He’ll be okay.  He’s got a flat white and yet another version of ‘Blue Monk’ to keep him warm’ (Darkness, Darkness, p. 416).

I’ll not worry about him then, and lord knows I have done sometimes, wondering if the sadness and the loneliness in him would take him over.  But he’ll be okay.  Cheers Charlie.

A Resnick playlist

Lonely Hearts (1989)  Billie Holiday – (I don’t stand a) Ghost of a Chance (with you) (Music for Torching, 1955)

Rough Treatment (1990) Red Rodney Quintet – Shaw ‘Nuff (Red Rodney Returns, 1959)

Cutting Edge (1991) Art Pepper – Straight Life (Straight Life, 1979)

Off Minor  (1992)  Thelonious Monk – Off Minor (Monk’s Music, 1957)

Wasted Years  (1993) Thelonious Monk – Evidence (Thelonious Monk at the Blackhawk, 1960)

Cold Light  (1994) Duke Ellington Orchestra – Cottontail (The Carnegie Hall Concerts, 1943)

Living Proof  (1995) Stan Tracey Duo – Some Other Blues (Live at the QEH, 1994)

Easy Meat  (1996) Billie Holiday – Body and Soul (Body and Soul, 1957)

Still Water  (1997) Miles Davis – Bag’s Groove (Bag’s Groove, 1957)

Last Rites  (1998)  Sandy Brown – In the Evening (In the Evening, 1970)

Cold in Hand  (2008) Bessie Smith – Cold in Hand Blues (1925, The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. 3, 1951)

Darkness Darkness (2014) Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk (Thelonious Monk Trio, 1954)

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Memories of a (nearly) free festival – Tramlines 2014

Once a year, for the last four years, my city has been taken over by music.  In the parks, the pubs, the squares, the cafes, the galleries, even the Cathedral, bands known and unknown have played, and Sheffield people – and visitors from further afield – have listened, cheered, and danced.

I love this city anyway, for its hills, its green places, the way in which it manages to be not just a metropolis but a collection of villages grouped around a vibrant cultural centre.  Fill it with music and I am besotted.

It used to be free, and it couldn’t stay that way, sadly.  But lots of it still is, and I paid £15 for the privilege of seeing 18 bands last weekend, constrained only by my own stamina, the necessity of spending a little time on boring necessities such as shopping and laundry, and the logistics of getting from one venue to another to see everyone I might have wanted to see. 

The sunshine helped of course, and the mood, wherever we went, seemed to be as sunny as the weather. The police reported – well, nothing really.  There were grumbles from people who’d bought tickets and didn’t get in to see the big names on Devonshire Green – but if you buy a Glasto ticket (at a somewhat greater cost), does that guarantee you’ll see the headliners?  I don’t think so.  And there were some late timetable changes which inevitably meant disappointments too.  But it was a blast, and a thoroughly joyous weekend.

And the best of it? Unquestionably Malian band Songhoy Blues, playing in the Millennium Gallery on Saturday night.   I’d resisted the calls from most bands I’d seen to tell them if I was having a good time, or if I was ready, or to clap along.  But when Aliou Toure asked us all ‘You like?’, we told him in no uncertain terms that yes, we did, we liked. 

West African music moves me so deeply partly because of my childhood in Ghana, and later in Nigeria.  As a small child living near the University campus in Kumasi, we heard the highlife music drifting over from the student residences, a hypnotic blend of Latin sounds and indigenous Ghanaian rhythms.  And in Northern Nigeria at the end of Ramadan I watched Tuareg horsemen in blue robes and headdresses charging down the main drag, magnificent and unforgettable. 

Over the years I’ve listened to music from all over that continent – many years back I saw the Bhundhu Boys from Zimbabwe and S E Rogie from Sierra Leone live at the Leadmill, and the CD collection (and my iPod running selection) includes King Sunny Ade, Youssou n’Dour, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Habib Koite, Tinariwen, Ali Farka Toure and others. 

More than any other African music, I come back to the sounds of Mali.  Partly it’s because I love the blues, and in Malian music you hear that, the source of the blues, its DNA (as Martin Scorsese put it).  There’s immense variety in the music of Mali, the soul of Salif Keita, desert blues from Tinariwen, hints of flamenco in Habib Koite or Toumani Diabete – rich in influences from and on other musical traditions, but always clearly Mali. 

This sublime musical culture has been threatened in recent years but on the evidence of last weekend it is strong, gorgeous, joyous.  Songhoy Blues made me dance, made me smile like an idiot, made me cry a little, when Aliou Toure spoke about his country, his continent, and what the music stood for – peace, love, unity.

My Tramlines 2014 was:

Friday 25 July – Shy Nature (Sheffield Cathedral), Allusondrugs (Millennium Gallery), The Wedding Present (Leadmill)


Saturday 26 July – Nordic Giants (City Hall), John T Angle & the Spirit Levels, Laurel Canyons (Cathedral), The Indecision, KOG (Peace Gardens), Juffage, Songhoy Blues (Millennium Gallery)

laurel nordic giants

Sunday 27 July – Max Restraino, Kane’d, Dresden Saints, Broken Saints (Western Park), Woman’s Hour (Cathedral), Blossomer, Neil McSweeney, TOY (Leadmill)

To all of the musicians, and to everyone who made it happen,

Thank you!




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