On his latest for Thrill Jockey, Koïma, Sidi Touré lays a foundation of driving yet delicate calabash percussion, spellbinding fingerpicked guitar and soukou (single-stringed violin) flourishes. Tipping his hat to traditional song styles with cool-sounding names—takamba, shallo, holley, gao-gao—the blues-imbued Malian musician sings in his native Songhai dialect, his mellow vocal line echoed by a female singer with a nasal timbre. It’s no wonder the dude has won national singing awards in Mali: You don’t have to understand the lyrics to appreciate his warm, soulful delivery.
Koïma references a mystical pink sand dune in Touré’s hometown of Gao, currently the site of rebel conflict that erupted in March after army officers staged a coup d’état. Rebel groups have also seized control of two other cities in the country, and the escalating violence has lent these songs added gravity.
Like Touré, Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux is widely renowned in her home country and beyond for tackling political unrest. Her new album, La Bala (“The Bullet”), addresses student protests in Chile, among other topics. While the lyrics may be confrontational, the sound isn’t—unlike, say, M.I.A., Tijoux’s tunes are punctuated by subdued string arrangements, not gunshots.