Rokia Traoré – The Barbican, London, June 22 2012
By Louise Ungless
Rokia Traoré, one of West Africa’s most experimental female artists, came to London to present three very different concerts. The trilogy of shows – part of the London Festival 2012 – showed very distinct sides to the singer’s music. On June 22, Traoré presented her second concert Donguili (Sing), where she performed with young musicians who trained at her music foundation in Bamako, Mali.
Eagerly waiting, the large audience within the Barbican Hall ruptured into an applause as Traoré and her backing singers walked elegantly onto the stage. With a kora, Mamadyba Camara introduced the first song ‘Kaniba’ beautifully, shortly accompanied by Mamah Diabate’s ngoni and Traoré’s soulful, deep voice. Singing in Bambara (Mali’s lingua franca), her voice gradually took over the instrumentation, with occasional harmonies from her backing singers and intricate embellishes seeping from the kora. It was a beautiful start to what was a passionate set, highlighting the traditional instrumentation and repertoires found within Traoré’s music.
During the set, Traoré spoke passionately about religion, stating that “all ways to believe in god are good”. She also spoke of the problems taking place in Northern Mali and how half of the band could not join them in London as a result. “Mali is a country where diversity is enriched” says Traoré, with various ethnicities and religions found within the country, “we’ve been living together until now”. What followed was a huge applause from the audience. The band went into their next song ‘Bamanaya’, where human beatboxer/vocal sculptor Jason Singh joined the band. The contemporary influences within Traoré’s music became very apparent from here on.
The band played ‘Diadjiri’; an historic song that was performed by griots (hereditary musicians) for great warriors. The kora and double bass were beautifully in sync, whilst Singh replicated insect noises, providing an exotic backdrop to the song. The occasional sudden pause from the instrumentation allowed Traoré to display the strong range and power within her voice.
For ‘Kele Mandi’, special guest John Paul Jones came on stage to accompany Traoré on her guitar. Her occasional hum gave a slight blues feel to the song. This was followed by Traoré’s own interpretation of Bob Marley’s ‘Zimbabwe’, where all musicians thoroughly enjoyed themselves. “Africa will be nothing without Africans” she says during her song ‘Tassidoni’. After this statement, she performed dances from Nigeria and Mali with her backing singers.
For the encore, the band performed a song dedicated to the great feminist singers in Mali, such as Oumou Sangare. The song ‘Djaba’ highlighted that women should be allowed to marry who they love and not be forced into marriage. She claps a rhythm in which the audience follows, providing an upbeat end to this passionate set.