Blues And Beyond

Chris Thomas King was born in Louisiana in 1964. The son of blues musician Tabby Thomas, Chris Thomas King has consistently pushed the blues into new and dramatic form. He also produced the Grammy-winning soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou? Of all the great white blues-rock bands to emerge in the late 1960s, Led Zeppelin stand supreme. In Robert Plant they had a vocalist who could rock as hard as anyone but who never sounded better than when singing electrified, updated versions of pre-war blues songs. Linking up with Justin Adams, ‘Win My Train Fair Home’ is a fusion of Mississippi and West African blues styles. 

Justin Adams has also been praised for his recent work as Tinariwen’s producer. Based on the fringes of the Sahara desert in Mali, the former band of Tuareg rebel warriors known as Tinariwen famously swapped their rifles for electric guitars. Their snaking rhythms and their affinity for blues of the Mississippi Delta is evident. Coldplay’s Chris Martin has also cited them as an influence. Etran Finatawa, hailing from Niger, also employ enchanting Tuareg blues guitars, but it is their combination with the Wodaabe members that sets them apart – creating powerfully hypnotic rhythms that tell tales of nomadic life.

From Detroit, Outrageous Cherry’s freaked-out blues-derived sound is comparable to the blues-rock explosion of the late 1960s and their track ‘Lord Have Mercy On Me’, was featured on the soundtrack to the 2007 film Black Snake Moan. North Mississippi All-Stars was formed in 1996 by brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson and Chris Chew in Hernando, Mississippi. North Mississippi has turned back to the blues as a source of inspiration, creating an updated blues rock hybrid.

Niger’s Mamane Barka is a master of an extraordinary instrument called the biram, a five-stringed, harp-like affair shaped like a long wooden boat. He uses the instrument to create a raw earthy sound that seems to conjure a primeval blues spirit.  Born in Senegal, Nuru Kane discovered his true sound in Morocco, discovering the rhythms of gnawa music. He fused the instruments of earthy tones with his acoustic guitar playing to create his own unique take on African blues with North and West African influences. The album Sigil (2006) earned him a nomination as Best Newcomer in the BBC Radio 3 awards for world music.

In whichever direction the influence travelled along the musical trade routes between Mali and Mississippi (and, in truth, it has surely been a two-way traffic), the results has been thrilling. The blues has moved way beyond its roots to become a multifaceted international form that is vigorous and strong enough to absorb rock, rap, electronic and global influences and still retain its original core values.

The Rough Guide To Blues And Beyond was complied by Nigel Williamson, author The Rough Guide to Blues book.