Protest Song of the Week: ‘Irganda’ by Songhoy Blues

Over the weekend, an international climate agreement was announced in Paris. It has been widely hailed as a historic step toward addressing climate change. Yet, pledges to cut emissions are not legally binding, and the reality is the agreement may do very little to avert climate catastrophe because countries responsible for huge amounts of pollution, like the United States, refuse to do their fair share.

One of the best bands of 2015, Songhoy Blues, has a song for the moment called “Irganda,” which translates to “our environment.” It is from their album, “Music in Exile,” and is Shadowproof’s “Protest Song of the Week.”

The song is jubilant in tone. It has a heavy desert blues guitar part to it. The guitar solo in the song, when played live, is downright exhilarating.

This is the music of Malian refugees—Aliou Touré, Garba Touré, Oumar Touré, and Nathanael Dembélé (no relation between Tourés). Their country was taken over by Islamists in 2012. The government cracked down on musicians.

The band’s music is defined by the desert of Mali. It is influenced by the war and what is happening to people who have fled the country. And, as Aliou has described it, there is a bit of an Arabic influence from the Maghreb. It blends elements of blues, jazz, and rock.

Aliou has explained that “Irganda” is not merely about green issues, like recycling, reducing fossil fuel consumption, etc. He told Sam Garbett of Mali Interest Hub the song focuses on more dire predicaments: lack of water, desertification, and poverty.

Citizens of Mali, according to Aliou, have little choice but to burn firewood for cooking food. Around 6 million tons are burned each year. “Every day they cut down trees. There are already not enough trees,” Aliou added.

What this means is the Sahara Desert rapidly creeps up on towns. Timbuktu is particularly vulnerable and can be described as a “fragile eco-system in a very fragile political state.”

With that in mind, the message of the song is that young people of Mali need to honor and take responsibility for the environment of Mali. And, amidst war, it is a defiant plea for reflection and action.

Listen to an electrifying live version of “Irganda” by Songhoy Blues:

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."