Rokia Traoré, Koko, London

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The Independent Culture

That Rokia Traoré is not your typical Malian star is reflected in the choice of venue, typically home to rock gigs and club nights, and her experimental rock support, the Mercury-nominated Sweet Billy Pilgrim.

Traoré moves through songs, adventurously blending traditional West African music and western rock, especially 2008's critically acclaimed Tchamantché.

From start to finish, the 36-year-old Traoré is a captivating performer. "Dianfa" is a striking opener, Traoré's mellow undulating voice raw and ominous against delicate folk and blues finger-picked guitar. The band builds to a powerful crescendo, mirroring her vocals as they swell with feeling, describing problems in Africa. She breaks the tension with a warm smile, and, discarding her jacket and electric guitar, launches into an upbeat "Aimer", embodying the slinky grooves with her lithe, barefoot dancing. It sets the tone for the rest of the evening – serene vocal melodies against Afrobeat-hued grooves that loosen the limbs and entice the crowd to dance.

Tonight, the amalgamation of musical cultures is brought even more to the fore. Traditional African n'goni merges with electric guitar, and in "Aimer", the guitarist's solo gets an ovation of its own. Still, Traoré makes a point of promoting her homeland. "We have to believe in this continent. We can be proud of our culture. Everything we can take from other cultures is good, but we have to remember who we were before."

In her final song "M'Bifo", Traoré speeds up her singing so her words morph into an entrancing form of gentle percussion, taking on an improvisational feel as her band build up to a version extending well beyond its recorded length. Backing singer Naba Traoré performs an extraordinary dance, so fluid that the difficulty of her contortions is disguised, completing a show that, a rarity, could not be exactly recreated.

When the two-song 30-minute encore is up, you feel that Traoré, with her boundless energy, would happily keep on going.

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