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Rokia Traore: Different Side of a Continent

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Monday November 11, 2013

Different Side of a Continent
By: Ben Ratliff

Through her excellent new record, “Beautiful Africa” (Nonesuch), Rokia Traoré, the middle-class daughter of a Malian diplomat, remains honest, curious, feminist, defiant toward anyone who considers her work beneath her station — “Afro-progressive,” as she puts it in the title track.

“Let’s talk openly!” she pleads, singing in Bambara, in “Sikey.” “Your senseless hate will change nothing/I’m an artist/Your opinion means little.” Likewise the record sounds defiant toward anyone who expects a certain defined sound from West African music, either within traditional or pop lines. Produced by John Parish, it balances rough and smooth, soft and loud, ngoni and chiming electric guitar, lilt and funk, in sometimes counterintuitive proportions.

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