Rokia Traoré – Kèlè Mandi: Mali Song of the Week

A song of immense beauty tops the bill this week as we delve into the depths of Rokia Traore’s earlier work. ‘Kèlè Mandi’ hails from her third studio album ‘Bowmboï’ released in 2003. Justifying their choice for making its Album of the Year, BBC Radio 3 highlighted the view that ‘Bowmboï’ represented “a defining release for an artist who must now be considered world class”.  The real delight in the album is not the racy, high-energy music that Mali is more commonly associated; instead “it’s in the slower pieces where the production allows detail to shine – as in her use of vocal harmonies…and constantly surprising little instrumental colours.”

‘Kèlè Mandi’ is a delicate master-piece that allows us to hear each of those features in perfect balance. The guitar flowing alongside the vocals, which flutter and climb with a gentle strength. It makes the song electrifying, yet relaxing, like a lone tenor in the majesty of a cathedral. But it is more earthy and colourful than that.

Traore is a true realisation of that famous phrase: that form is temporary and class is permanent. Fast-forward to today and she is still going strong, perhaps stronger and wiser than ever. She is in London this week, performing at the Roundhouse on February 6th ahead of the release of her new album ‘Ne So’ on February 12th. Confessing not to be overtly political, Traoré explains in a separate interview – back at the BBC on January 27th – that the title track of the album, which means “home”, is “an invitation to think about the idea of ‘home’.” She continues saying that we forget that having somewhere to call home “is the basis of all in life …and when you understand the importance of home, you can understand the problem for people who have suddenly have no home” referring to the appalling situation of millions of refugees from Africa and the Middle-East. Pressing the issue she stresses the point that when you fully consider a refugee’s position in this way it becomes so clear that they “are not animals, they are humans.”

When confronted with someone who sings in multiple languages it is not often possible (unless you are very brainy)  to follow the exact meaning of each of their songs, especially when they tackle complex issues like the one above. But there is another, much more simple way of at least getting an idea of what she wishes to convey – simply tune into the abundant warmth , colour and staggering emotion in her music.



Rokia Traoré – Kèlè Mandi


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group –

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at Any comments and ideas for improving the Hub are especially welcome. We all look forward to hearing from you. Thanks for tuning in.

The Mali Interest Hub is an initiative run by the Mali Development Group, supported by the Alliance for Mali.

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