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Rokia Traore Makes NPR's Ann Powers' Top 10 List

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Monday December 16, 2013

From NPR Music

Ann Powers’ Top 10 Albums And Songs Of 2013
By: Ann Powers

Last spring I started having a daydream. What if instead of going through the agony of compiling a year-end Top 10, I did something much more fun — like host a girls’ night out? My fantasy involved a night of convivial chatter and music-making across genres and generations: a country music artisan exploring ideas about song form with a jazz revisionist; a punk doyenne giving image pointers to a young pop iconoclast; an R&B revivalist talking emotionalism with an African-born European rocker. Women were making great music all across the world, and by autumn I realized that though I might never get my favorites in the same physical space, I’d have no problem shaping a list that shows how their music works together to form fascinating debates and moments of confluence, even when, stylistically, they seem distant or even opposed.

Plenty of men made outstanding music in 2013 — I’ve enthused about some of my favorites elsewhere within NPR Music’s year-end coverage. But from the controversies generated by Miley Cyrus and Lorde to the overwhelming critical love for Brandy Clark and (surprise!) Beyonce, little presented itself as more worthy of serious consideration than women’s identities, attitudes and creative output. (Yeezus did. But it was clearly inspired, at how many degrees of artistic removal we can’t know, by one particular, oft-maligned woman — Kanye West’s muse, Kim Kardashian.) Women’s performances shocked and titillated and gave rise to crucial conversations about race, sexuality, entitlement and cultural disruption. In quieter ways, women were at the helm and the heart of albums that honored innovation, deep craft and risk-taking. I’ve always been conscientious about including plenty of women on my year-end lists; this year, I’m agonizing about how many I had to leave off.

On to the greatest party ever — at least until next year. I hope you listen to these musicians together, in dialogue that goes long into the night.

And then, just for fun, let’s get back together for brunch — my songs list highlights ten more women who made my year more meaningful, challenging and fun.

5. Rokia Traoré, ‘Beautiful Africa’
Rokia Traore would be one of most cosmopolitan women at any table. The Mali native, currently based in Paris, made her latest album in Bristol with frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish. Still rooted in African rhythms and instrumentation, Beautiful Africa has a bit of Polly Harvey’s daring in its fine bones . Traore’s singing — mostly in French and Bambara — is so emotionally expressive, and her rock-influenced arrangements so intensely calibrated, that the meanings embedded in her poetic ruminations come across perfectly whatever language she’s using.

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