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Rokia Traoré & John Parish: An Unpredictably Perfect Combo

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Tuesday April 02, 2013

From Music Omh

Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa
by: Daniel Paton

Whilst this is not the first time the superb Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré has worked with a western production team, Beautiful Africa does seem to sit very comfortably alongside a string of albums now emerging from West Africa. Ngoni superstar Bassekou Kouyate worked with Arcade Fire producer Howard Bilerman on his fantastic Jama Ko album, whilst Bombino has just released Nomad, a recording produced by the alchemical hand of Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys. Traoré’s Beautiful Africa, her first album since 2008”s sublime Tchamantche, was recorded in Bristol with British musician and producer John Parish, perhaps best known for his work with PJ Harvey.

If it feels like an odd combination on paper, even a cursory listen reveals the collaboration to make perfect sense. Parish has always had a raw, unpretentious way with production which captures the energy and feeling of a song. Much of his work also has a strong connection with the blues, something that runs deeply through Traoré’s work, particularly on this fine album. Whilst this album is certainly more muscular and rock-tinged than anything Traoré has produced before, Parish has undoubtedly been respectful and empathetic towards the strong traditions of Malian music.

Beautiful Africa is an ambitious work that finds Traoré singing in three different languages (her native Bambara, French and even a little English). It also feels remarkably positive and celebratory. Although perhaps missing some of the anger and poise of Kouyate’s Jama Ko, it works its magic through the intensity of the musicianship behind it, through the nuanced inflections of Traoré’s distinctive, haunting voice and through the engaging power of rhythm and groove (the presence of the always excellent Sebastian Rochford on drums here is a significant factor in the sound of the music).

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