For various reasons this is by far my lowest time of the year and so I went to the Mighty Shelves of Joy (MSOJ, henceforth) in need of a good pick me up. I picked up a goodie and in turn, it picked me up.
- Ever wanted to hear the Clash ‘Should I Stay, Or Should I go?’ turned into a meditation on the African diaspora to Europe? of course you have.
- Ever wanted to hear Led Zeppelin ‘Kashmir’ sung in Tamasheq and sounding authentically aged and travelled? of course you have.
- Ever wanted to hear Manu Dibango ‘Soul Makossa’* with added Brian Eno on keyboards? of course you have.
Well, my friend, in that case you need to net yourself a copy of Songhoy Blues Re-Covered 12″, like what I done and gone did last year. As everyone’s favourite young guitar slingin’ Malian bucks tear into three undeniably great originals with no little gusto and enthusiasm.
First up, the Clash. I have jumped up and down, bumping into all manner of other sweaty happy folk to the original more times than I care to admit since my generation discovered it through a jeans commercial. The Songhoy Blues take on it is a great one, the guitars really rock and the beat swings h-e-a-v-y and they insert a great African interlude right into the middle of the track, just because they can, right before the riff comes back heavier still. It does everything I want a cover version to do, they stamp their own identity on it and add some of their own ideas, whilst reminding the happy listener of what a great track it was in the first place. Job done**.
Next up on Re-Covered is ‘Soul Makossa’; Makossa being a word in the Cameroonian dialect of Douala meaning dance, which since the 50’s has been co-opted for a certain type of funky dance and popularised by the Manu Dibango track covered here. The original is a Super-fly brass heavy Sub-Saharan disco funk behemoth. Songhoy Blues transpose it into a twitching guitar jive, with Brian Eno providing some choppy funk keyboards for reasons best known to himself^.
Flip the sucka over and our Songhoy Blues brothers tackle a tricky one head on, ‘Kashmir’. First up, even with Nick Zinner lending some additional guitar chops this is a lighter, nimbler confection than the original. It gets bonus points for being sung in, I assume, Tamasheq which suits the distinctly Arabic sounds of the original track^^.
Talk in song from tongues of lilting grace
Sounds caress my ear
And not a word I heard could I relate
The story was quite clear
This version swings and there are some lovely bits of guitar picking over the top of the track. It’s good but I would reach for the version Page/Plant did on No Quarter before this one.
So all in all I’m a happier chap, than when I started listening to this, which is pretty much one of the whole points of this music thing isn’t it? How could any encounter with these guys not leave you in a better mood? I ended up, very happily, cranking up Music In Exile yet again, which is pretty much the whole point of EPs.
*as stolen by Jackson, Michael for ‘Wanna Be Startin Somethin”.
**post Stranger Things it also doesn’t remind me of sinister fairy lights, which is very important as I’m alone in the house tonight.
^I suspect it is all part of his master plan, something that us mere mortals, with our teeny tiny normal size brains, couldn’t hope to understand.
^^I always wondered why a song so redolent of North Africa was called after the disputed region between India and Pakistan. What me worry?