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The music of singer and guitarist Sidi Toure is steeped in the folkloric traditions of the Sahara Desert. Toure's hometown, Gao, is officially part of Mali, although it's currently held by rebel forces.

Reviewer Banning Eyre says Toure's new album, "Koima", both reflects the region's rich history and offers some perspective on the struggle now unfolding there.

BANNING EYRE: It's easy to romanticize the Sahara, a vast expanse of sand organized around the northern reaches of the Niger River. The music we're hearing is part of that romance. It's desert chamber music harking back to the glory days of the Songhai Empire, which ruled from the city of Gao in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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SIDI TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Many of Sidi Toure's songs express nostalgia for that bygone era. Today, one might also feel a hankering for the peaceful coexistence this region's people enjoyed until recently.

In March, rebel forces swept the city of Gao into a self-proclaimed Tuareg homeland they're calling Azawad. The sedentary Songhai and the nomadic Tuareg have lived side-by-side for centuries and share much including, in recent times, a reputation for creating highly distinctive guitar music.

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TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Songhai music is delicate and rhythmically complex. And when Sidi Toure plays and sings on his own, you can feel him channeling ancient folklore through the modern filter of an acoustic guitar. A couple of songs on "Koima" make a nod to the blues, an easy leap for this dry, dusty, lonely music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Maybe the most beautiful thing about Songhai music is its multilayered rhythms, where different tempos and even time signatures coexist in a subtle, shifting flow. That mysterious duality is endlessly fascinating to the ear and also a fitting metaphor for the current cultural drama unfolding in and around Gao. In music and in life, contradictory truths coexist and the challenge is to find a balance, as Toure does so beautifully on "Koima."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

CORNISH: Banning Eyre is senior editor at AfroPop.org. He reviewed "Koima" by Sidi Toure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

TOURE: (Singing in foreign language)

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