The blues, at its heart, is rooted in something ancient and universal: human experience. Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that this art form has found fertile ground in which to grow all around the globe. From the music’s ancestral home on the African continent to the Nordic lands and the Far East, musicians continue to keep the blues’ spirit alive. Here are five of the best.
Tinariwen – Mali
Tuareg nomads Tinariwen are at the heart of the desert blues boom, a movement which takes the blues back to its ancestral home to fuse with native Northern African rhythms. Tinariwen quite literally record under the stars, in the desert, making use of an old camper-van transformed into a makeshift studio. Their music is simply extraordinary. Complex poly-rhythms circle and intertwine. Snaking hand-percussion and melodic bass anchor a delirious mix of hot, wailing guitar. Their music is an echoing, haunting slow burn, infused with spirit and with soul. The language may not be English, but this is unmistakably a true form of the blues, perhaps as true as we shall ever hear. Listen to the excellent “Nànnuflày” and wonder.
Blues Cargo – Greece
Blues Cargo are legendary in their native Greece. Founded in Athens over three decades ago, the band have, over the years, backed such talented artists as Louisiana Red, Guitar Shorty and Jimmy Morello. Blending sax and keys with guitar, this is a crack blues-rock outfit. Close your eyes and listen to “95%”, recorded live at the legendary Half Note Jazz Club, and you could be forgiven for thinking that the members of Blues Cargo had been born and raised in Chicago. This smoking, swinging band really can mix it up with the best.
Ali Farka Touré – Mali
Multi-instrumentalist Ali Farka Touré, now sadly departed, remains one of the African continent’s most distinguished artists. He recorded with, among others, American slide guitar great Ry Cooder. Listen to his album Niafunké (named after the village in which it was recorded) to experience his wonderful desert blues, full of swirling patterns, infectious beats and Touré’s incredible finger-picking guitar. His singing has rightly been compared to John Lee Hooker and it’s easy to see why. Check out the equally brilliant Savane for more of this wonderful artist’s beautiful music.
Joe Colombo – Switzerland
Swiss/Italian blues guitarist Joe Colombo grew up on a diet of Jimmy Hendrix and Johnny Winter. In his twenties, Colombo saved up enough money to visit the US, where he spent six months soaking up as much authentic blues music as he could find. Back home, local success led to a long and fruitful relationship with the great Terry Evans, which catapulted Colombo onto the international stage. Listen to this live lock-down home recording of “In the Mood” and you can hear why this talented player is such a respected artist.
Soulmate – India
It’s fair to say that Rudy Wallang and Tipriti Kharbangar, aka Soulmate, have done more than any other band to promote blues music throughout India. Formed in 2003, in the beautiful Shillong area, the duo have shared bills with Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks. If that’s not enough for you, consider the fact that Carlos Santana once personally asked if he could join them onstage. Check out this wonderful version of “Voodoo Woman” recorded live in Manitou Springs, Colorado.