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Rokia Traoré: One of the Most Intriguing Singers in Africa

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Thursday May 23, 2013

From The London Evening Standard

Rokia Traoré, Cargo – music review
By: Simon Broughton

Rokia Traoré is a sculptural presence on stage — with her shaved head, figure-hugging dress and low-slung Gretsch electric guitar. She is one of the most intriguing and distinctive singers in Africa and will open the Glastonbury Festival on the Pyramid Stage next month as it pays homage to Mali, that most musical of African countries, in its times of distress.

I remember Rokia’s first London performance at Soho’s Pizza Express in 1999 and it was clear that she was going to become a star. Then her gentle, breathy voice was exquisite but vulnerable singing Mouneïssa. Although still a slight figure, she is now a confident, powerful force at the centre of a powerful band mixing Western and African musicians.

Last night was a crowded and intimate gig — a sort of album launch — before her Glastonbury performance and a much bigger London show later in the year. Her new album, Beautiful Africa, is produced by John Parish, producer of PJ Harvey, and is much rockier than anything she’s done before with four-to-the-floor drumming and lots of electric guitar.

But alongside her on stage is her formidable ngoni (desert lute) player Mamah Diabaté who dons instruments of different sizes and does some funky solos. The song Beautiful Africa is a Malian rock song referencing the problems in Mali and elsewhere in Africa. It has an anthemic power which gets the crowd responding.

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