Lobi Traore: Guitarist who fused blues and rock with his native Malian music

A songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Lobi Traoré was best known for his distinctive, almost psychedelic guitar style. His music was a gritty but never overwrought fusion of rock and blues with his own Bambara folklore roots and earned him a strong cult following at home in Mali. He came to be known abroad during the last two decades through a series of solo and collaborative albums, as well as numerous tours. Word about his legendary residencies at Bamako night spots such as Bozo bar and Ma Kele Kele filtered out via reports by visiting musical cognoscenti.

One of these was the writer and musician Banning Eyre, who recalls in his book In Griot Time: an American guitarist in Mali (2000) how the Bambara bluesman described his relationship with American influences, such as the music of John Lee Hooker. "Maybe I was inspired by it. Maybe the blues was inspired by Africa. Maybe the resemblance is just a coincidence. What I know is this: the music I play comes from my place."

After visiting Mali in 2000 and playing with Traoré, the American blues guitarist Bonnie Raitt remarked: "Bambara music, and the way that Lobi plays it, is something that really moves me because it's so blues – he has a very interesting hybrid of rock and African and blues in him and he is original in a way that I've never heard anybody; his tone and what he plays where and his band are unbelievable."

Traoré was born in the village of Bakaridianna, close to the provincial capital of Ségou. Both his parents took part as singers in the local Komo secret society, and when he was only 16, he joined the folk group Apollo in Ségou, as a drummer.

His professional career commenced shortly after this when he moved to Bamako, where he played guitar in a wedding band. At that time, Traoré's only background was in the Bambara music he had grown up with, and he was compelled to learn the Manding styles they played.

In 1979 he went with Apollo to play for three months in the Ivory Coast capital Abidjan, and ended up staying there till 1984. On his return to Bamako, he began learning guitar skills from Zani Diabaté of the Super Djata Band, with whom he would soon make his first tours of Europe and North America, as one of their singers. During the 1980s, he further honed his guitar style in Bamako's more leftfield bars, which eventually brought him to the attention of the producer Philippe Berthier, who recorded his first cassette, Bambara Blues in 1991.

For the follow-up album Bamako (1994), Traoré began an association with the late "desert blues" maestro Ali Farka Touré, who produced and made guest appearances on this and the two subsequent releases, Segou (1996) and Duga (1999). On the latter he was joined by the Paris-based harmonica player Vincent Bucher, whom he had got to know during tours of Europe in the mid-1990s. When the British musician Damon Albarn visited Mali in 1999 as part of the On the Line project, he started work on the album that would become Mali Music (Honest Jon's, 2002), which included a contribution by Traoré.

Traoré performed at the 2003 Festival in the Desert, the celebrated annual gathering in the dusty north of Mali, near Timbuktu, and in 2005, Honest Jon's released the album The Lobi Traoré Group, a live recording made three years earlier. It would be another three years before they appeared at London's Barbican Centre for the Honest Jon's Chop Up.

The same year, Traoré released his last album I Yougoba (Diesel Motor), a collaboration with the Dutch blues artist Joep Pelt, who had met him on a visit to Mali in 2004. They had recorded it in 2006, and toured Europe the following year. Traoré's most recent high-profile work was in contributing lead guitar to two tracks on the album BKO (Glitterhouse, 2010) by the US-based group Dirtmusic. Two more recently recorded albums by Traoré are likely to be released soon.

Jon Lusk

Bourama (Lobi) Traoré, musician: born Bakaridianna, Mali 1 January 1962; married (four children); died Bamako, Mali 1 June 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map