African great Amadou 'Balaké' Traore dead at 70

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Amadou Ballaké Traore
  • Courtest of Sterns Records
  • Amadou "Ballaké" Traore

Yesterday one of Africa's greatest and most dynamic singers and bandleaders, Amadou "Balaké" Traore, died in Ouagadougou, the capital of his native Burkina Faso, at the age of 70. In recent years he was one of the key vocalists in the veteran pan-African salsa juggernaut Africando, but starting in the 60s he was a true journeyman, settling in for spells in Mali, Ivory Coast, and Guinea, among other locales, finding his way within regional styles. Balaké didn't make a ton of recordings during his career, but the music he released—much of it on the Abidjan-based Sacodis imprint—was delightfully varied, moving easily between Afrobeat and salsa with many stops in between, though he frequently returned to the stuttering warba grooves of Burkina Faso.

In 1979 he traveled with Gambian singer Laba Sosseh to New York, where he cut a series of tracks with local salsa musicians, a cultural marriage that paved the way for the emergence of Africando. (In this, of course, Balaké was among the many African musicians who'd already adapted Afro-Cuban traditions for their own purposes, reclaiming the music's African roots.) He turned in some terrific performances on last year's Viva Africando (Sterns), and you can check out his singing on the album's opening track, "Deni Sabali," below.

Earlier this year the Dutch imprint Kindred Spirits reissued one of Balaké's best albums for Sacodis, Bar Konon Mousso Bar, on vinyl. There are pieces that reference the clave groove of Cuba, with chattering guitars playing the usual montuno piano patters, but there are also some hard-hitting Afrobeat jams like the album opener, "Super Bar Nonon Mousso," which you can hear below.


Today's playlist:

The Doves, The Lord is My Shepherd (Tembo)
Richie Kamuca and Bill Holman, West Coast in Hifi (OJC/Hifi)
Bruno Chevillon & Tim Berne, Old and Unwise (Clean Feed)
Triptych Myth, The Beautiful (Aum Fidelity)
Darrow Fletcher, The Pain Gets a Little Deeper: the Complete Early Years 1965-1971 (Kent)

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