The career of Malian musician Boubacar Traoré is rather unconventional and mirrors a life full of twists and turns. For most of the 1960s, Boubacar Traoré was a celebrity on the national airwaves as a whole generation in Mali grew up listening to his music. Adopting the rock’n’roll style spreading worldwide at the time, Traoré’s songs celebrated the country’s newly acquired independence. But despite being hugely popular, the musician never earned any royalties from his radio plays nor did he release any records. Following a change of regime in 1968, Boubacar Traoré disappeared from national consciousness and didn’t perform publicly again for the next twenty years.

Boubacar Traoré - Je chanterai pour toi (2001)
Boubacar Traoré – Je chanterai pour toi (2001)

The death of his wife in 1989 prompted Boubacar Traoré to move to France where he worked on construction sites to support his six children. But in 1990, a producer from London-based African and World Music label Sterns Music went searching the archives of Malian radios and tracked the musician in France. Originally released as a cassette, Mariama (1990) launched Boubacar Traoré’s international career, aged 48.

Over the years, the singer’s incredible life story has been documented by several authors such as Belgian writer Lieve Joris in her 1998 travel narrative Mali Blues: Traveling to an African Beat. The latter book inspired in turn the 2001 feature documentary Je chanterai pour toi (I’ll sing for you) by Swiss film maker Jacques Sarasin.

Alone with his distinctive guitar style, often accompanied by a calabash player or with a small acoustic formation, Boubacar Traoré sings passionately about his love for his deceased wife, his country and his culture. A song like “Tunga Magni” epitomizes Boubacar Traoré’s talent for melancholic and slow ballads executed with exquisite blues-tinged guitar lines and comes from Maciré (1999).