12 O'Clock Track: "Beautiful Africa," electrified Malian sounds of Rokia Traore | Bleader

12 O'Clock Track: "Beautiful Africa," electrified Malian sounds of Rokia Traore


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Rokia Traore
  • Mathieu Zazzo
  • Rokia Traore
Remarkable Malian singer and songwriter Rokia Traore has demonstrated a consistent desire to expand the reach of her sound since she first emerged on the global circuit in 1998, slowly adding Western instruments and influences to her gently cycling but insistent music. In fact, electric guitars elbowed out traditional n'goni, acoustic guitar, and balafon on her fourth and most recent album, Tchamantché (Nonesuch), from 2009. Still, I wasn't prepared for the force electric guitars exert on her forthcoming Beautiful Africa—due from the same label on April 9—which marks a major transformation and a huge step forward artistically. The circular patterns remain at the heart of her music and her deeply soulful voice is generally as pretty, vigorous, and nuanced as ever, emphasizing certain melodic lines or words with shape and inflection rather than volume. But the flesh on that rhythmic skeleton is much different.

The record was produced by longtime P.J. Harvey collaborator John Parish—who has a record of his own film music due from Chicago's Thrill Jockey imprint on April 16 called Screenplay—and he also plays guitar on it. The beats are played on drum kit (by Seb Rochford of Polar Bear, who also played on the debut album by Fatoumata Diawara) and human beatboxer Jason Singh rather than the usual calabash and tam-tam, and the main guitar parts are played by Italian musician Stefano Pilia, known better for his membership in 3/4 Had Been Eliminated and working with David Grubbs than for his involvement in African music. But boy does it all work. The complexion and edge of the music has changed, but Traore hasn't—but she does bust out some very different cadences on today's 12 O'Clock Track, the aggressive, backbeat-propelled "Beautiful Africa." I've only listened to the album once, but it sure feels like something I'll be coming back to all year.

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment