The show was sparsely attended, but Arby and her excellent band hardly seemed to care. On the recent Timbuktu Tarab (Clermont Music) they play local instruments like n'goni and spike fiddle, but live they used only guitars—one acoustic and one electric—plus electric bass and trap drums (the drummer did switch to calabash for one song). What their setup lacked in interesting timbres they more than made up for with personality and intensity.
Steely, sharp, strong, and precise, Arby's voice can cut through any number of instruments. The music her band plays kind of splits the difference between the classic Malian blues associated with her cousin Ali Farka Toure and the desert rock of groups like Tinariwen and Etran Finatawa—but none of them can sing like Arby. The only person who even came close to stealing some of her thunder was her 17-year-old lead guitar player, Abdramane Touré, a tall and lanky wunderkind with a preternatural mastery of the music. He definitely indulged in some rock-star flash, peppering his solos with occasional hammer-ons and pick slides, but nothing he did sounded out of context. For most of the set he struck a coolly indifferent pose, but when Arby introduced him at the end of the set he couldn't suppress a huge grin—he was having a blast.
Arby also sat in with the headliners, the Sway Machinery, who sounded terrific for the five songs I caught. But her full band is playing again tonight at Logan Square Auditorium with the excellent Kenyan group Kenge Kenge, and I can't recommend the show highly enough.
Below you can check out "Khaira," one of the many great songs from Timbuktu Tarab:
David Binney and Alan Ferber, In the Paint (Posi-Tone)
Hakim, Tigi Tigi (Caravan)
Francesco Bearzatti Tinissima Quartet, Suite for Tina Modotti (Parco Della Musica)
Bernhard Lang, DW 8, 15, 3 (Col Legno)
Ronie Jorge e os Ladrões de Bicicleta, Frascos Comprimidos Compressas (Gira)