Live Last Night: Rokia Traoré


"I can't say what style I am," Rokia Traoré explains in a press release for last year's "Tchamantché," an album that finds the Mali singer/ songwriter weaving slippery West African grooves into blues structures on top of mournful, meditative laments. But at the Barns of Wolf Trap on Thursday night, the pacing and feel of her explosive performance had much in common with a no-holds barred rock concert.

(Read the rest of the review after the jump.)

The daughter of a Malian diplomat, Traoré has lived all over the world and spent time at university in Brussels -- an unusual path to world music limelight. Her recordings (four albums over a 12-year span) reflect that individuality: an unusual approach incorporating vocal harmonies, lyrics in French or Bambara (one of many Malian languages) and her own guitar playing added to traditional African sounds.

An amplified n'goni (a Malian lute) and thumb piano were the only traditional instruments evident Thursday and both were used in a driving style alongside drums, electric guitar and bass to form a propulsive attack that relented only occasionally over two hours.

Traoré's version of "The Man I Love" was a Billie Holiday love letter and "Dounia" was the night's somber moment, a pensive ballad driven by her own electric guitar. Beyond that, however, everything surged and roiled over a wicked tangle of electric guitar and n'goni. "Aimer" and "Tounka," which recalled the propulsive style of recent Amadou and Miriam performances, built to furious climaxes, concluding with Traoré dancing in joyous release.

While her African roots remain strong, interludes in which she introduced her talented band (and had each member take a solo) and a furious, nearly 20-minute encore jam confirmed Traoré is becoming adept at harnessing the power of rock-and-roll.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  February 13, 2009; 11:34 AM ET Live Last Night
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