Malian singer songwriter Rokia Traoré’s “Roots” project emerged as a continuation of the Desdemona multimedia collaboration she contributed to in 2011. Written by American novelist and 1993 Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison and staged by experimental theatre director Peter Sellars, Desdemona is a play imagining a dialogue between Othello’s wife Desdemona and Barbary, the African nurse and former slave looking after her. It was Sellars who commissioned the Malian artist to write music and songs for the play. Backed by three musicians (on the kora, ngoni and bolon) and three chorus singer, Rokia Traoré performed the songs on stage as Barbary.

Rokia Traoré - "Roots" project - 2011
Rokia Traoré – “Roots” project – 2011

Photo credit: Christophe Goussart – Fondation Passerelle

Retaining the exact same line-up of three musicians and three chorus singers, the artist toured her “Roots” project in 2011 and 2012 as a limited series of acoustic concerts. Singing some of her own songs and covering a selection of older and contemporary African songs, the project works as an homage to Malian music, African music and Pan-Africanism. The attached clip is a selection of the first two songs of the project:

  1. Titati (comp. Bako Dagnon) – 00’05’’
  2. Africa Unite (Bob Marley) – 05’10’’

A modern take on traditional African singing and instrumentation, the sheer visual and musical elegance of the performance is simply mesmerising.