Daughter of a Malian diplomat, Rokia Traoré spent parts of her childhood in Europe, the U.S., the Middle East, and Africa. She's played with a Belgian rap group, collaborated with the avant-chamber Kronos Quartet, written a piece casting Mozart as a 13th-century Malian griot, and covered Billie Holiday. On her latest album, Tchamantché (Nonesuch), she is enamored with a classic Gretsch electric guitar. So it's not surprising that Traoré's music, while vividly rooted in Malian tradition, roams far from its source, probing gorgeous, understated melodies that wind sinuously among hypnotic rhythms while she sings with a rich succession of murmurs, trills, whispers, and pulsing intimacies. The relatively sparse arrangements—mingling traditional and modern instruments—and Traoré's magical voice create an exquisite tension that builds and resolves itself through rapid flourishes of notes or into pools of eddying vocals, as at the end of "Aimer." The latter is a love song, but Traoré also writes about cultural pride, immigration problems, and existentialism. Singing primarily in Bambara, and occasionally in French, her single tune in English is a lovely version of the Holiday vehicle "The Man I Love," which evolves from a fragile, breathless meditation to an impassioned burst of scatting. Traoré's music is truly borderless and timeless, a sophisticated concoction of rock, pop, jazz, blues, and stirring African elements, at once full of ancient tradition and avant-garde vision.
Fri., Feb. 6, 7 p.m., 2009
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