Photo: Ismaël Diallo

Sidi Touré Throws All of Himself Into the Ecstatic Desert Blues of ‘Toubalbero’

Toubalbero expands the desert blues concept as Sidi Touré creates ecstatic compositions from familiar sonic elements.

Sidi Touré
Thrill Jockey
23 March 2018

In the global music scene, Mali is a nation legendary both for its diversity and its tempestuous history. Home to gentle kora sounds, stark desert blues, and some of the catchiest contemporary Afropop, the country has also seen troubles in recent years: rebellions, secession, censorship of secular music.

That hasn’t stopped artist Sidi Touré. Based in Bamako, the singer/songwriter makes true griot party rock that stems from the songhaï blues tradition so closely tied to international stars like Ali Farka Touré and Samba Touré – but that Sidi Touré has made into something explosive. New album Toubalbero expands the desert blues concept as Touré creates ecstatic compositions from familiar sonic elements.

Perhaps the most striking and engaging element of Toubalbero is how fully Touré throws himself into his work. While melodies and rhythms hypnotize at the foundation of each track, heady and trance-like in dizzying repetition, the true emotional core of any given song is whatever comes out of Touré’s own mouth, impassioned lyrics sung with his signature warm timbre. He brings daylight on sharp opening track “Hendjero Moulaye”, calling out in ardor for a strong backing response. On “BK”, he holds long, powerful notes and lets loose playful groans; on jubilant single “Heyyeya”, he cries out the title syllables in celebration. The personality and life he brings each music makes it easy not to notice how simple the basic structure of each song is, and in turn, that basic structure gives Touré plenty of room to move.

It also makes it easy for unexpected moments of complexity. The album’s title track boasts a quick and complicated series of percussion hits before Touré and the album’s bevy of various strings join in. The word “toubalbero” refers to a drum traditionally used in community-centered celebrations, and this song of the same name evokes multitudes, with beats standing in for footsteps, strums for the chatter of crowds.

“Kaoula” starts like many other songs, mid-tempo with a laid-back vibe, but within a minute and a half, the meter has entered a state of flux, changing over and over again, growing urgent with the help of growling electric guitar and insistent handclaps. By the end of three minutes, the track has gone from sounding like the not-so-distant cousin of a reggae tune to heavy psych rock and back again.

The album ends on a driving note with “Tarzidet”, where a bass-heavy intro leads into a desert road trip dreamscape. There’s nuance to the groove; Touré hits tender notes as surely as he puts together a solid jam, giving us earth, wind, fire, and catchy melody. It serves as the album’s sunset, a refreshing end to the work that promises more glorious times ahead.

Toubalbero is an album that rejoices. Sidi Touré is an artist who always sounds like he’s at the top of his game, one who sounds like he has put blood, sweat, and tears into everything he does, and who has loved every second of it. From track to track, Touré brings us new combinations of blues and rock inspired by history but informed by his own creative soul, marking him as not only an experienced musician, but also as one who never stops growing.

RATING 8 / 10