A genuinely boundary-busting artist, Traoré doesn’t follow in the footsteps of fellow Malian singers like Salif Keita or Oumou Sangaré. Thoroughly modern, she bridges songs in English, French and her native Bambara with rock instrumentation and offbeat collaborations. On her 2003 album, Bowmboï, Traoré recorded with the Kronos Quartet. For her latest, the statuesque singer has teamed up with PJ Harvey’s producer John Parish for a sound that is rock-tinged, yet distinctly African. The album features as much Gretsch as n’goni, the traditional Malian lute, and Traoré isn’t afraid to add some distorted lead guitar. Striking dynamics abound throughout, from the whisper-to-a-scream Kouma to the spirited title track, which expresses Traoré’s love for Africa while deploring its rampant chaos. The album’s most stirring track is Sarama, a gentle, swaying hymn in which Traoré sings of her admiration for the continent’s female population: “Every day they face their destiny/ Shirtless, barefoot, under the sun/ Women in Africa are strong.” On Beautiful Africa, Traoré’s own strength shines bright.
Originally published in Penguin Eggs Summer 2013
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