On a late Tuesday night whim I dropped by the Buffalo Billiards showcase of Malian rockers Songhoy Blues. It’s the most uplifting thing I’ve seen so far this week. The band was formed in Timbuktu after the members were driven out of their homeland on the banks of the Niger River when radical Islamists took over the region and banned music. There’s a documentary about them in the film portion of the fest. It’s titled “They’ll Have to Kill Us First” and it’s apparently very moving.
Considering the hardships they’ve faced it would make sense for their music to be a translation of suffering and pain. Instead their shows are one of the most exuberant celebrations of life I’ve ever witnessed. They mix the same sort of desert blues played by international stars Tinariwen with classic rock riffs reminiscent of Hendrix and gut-bucket Delta Blues. It’s an enthralling combination made even sweeter by the fact that leader singer Garba Touré is a rock star. He dances wildly with the flamboyant showmanship of an African James Brown while radiating so much joy it’s impossible not to smile.
The band has two more official showcases, 10 p.m. Thursday on Hotel Vegas Patio and 11:40 p.m. Friday at the Parish. They’ll also play a free unofficial South by San Jose show tomorrow afternoon. “They Will Have to Kill Us First” screens at the Vimeo theater on Friday.