Since her international début in 1997, Malian singer songwriter Rokia Traoré has always managed to strike an interesting balance between tradition and innovation. A ngoni and balafon player, she mainly sings in the Bambara language and draws inspiration from the rich tradition of the Mandé song repertoire or from other contemporary Malian singers. She has also been promoting and supporting Malian music and culture since 2009 with her Fondation Passerelle.

At the same time, the musician has consistently been breaking new ground, crossing over to contemporary classical music and arranging two songs with the Kronos Quartet on Bowmboï (2003), collaborating with the Orchestre National de Jazz on the Around Robert Wyatt project (2009) or writing the score for Toni Morrison and Peter Sellars’ multimedia play Desdemona (2011).

Rokia Traoré - Beautiful Africa (2013)
Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa (2013)

Released in early 2013, Beautiful Africa signals a new departure with a more drum and guitar-based sound. Bringing in P.J. Harvey’s long-time collaborator John Parish to produce the album, Rokia Traoré’s fifth recording is a lot closer to rock music, while still retaining a ngoni player and two backing singers. Singing in Bambara but also in French and in English, Rokia Traoré voices her concern for Mali’s and wider Africa’s unstable political situation.

[…] Battered, wounded Africa,
Why do you keep the role of the beautiful naive deceived
Yet, my faith does not know failure
More intense than ever,
My faith does not know failure
I love you beautiful Africa
Afrique je t’aime […]

Rokia Traoré – Beautiful Africa

Beautifully captured in the hall of The Trianon in Paris, this is a stripped down version of Ka Moun Kè set to a gorgeous hypnotic groove by Human Beatboxer Jason Singh and Rokia Traoré’s electric guitar.