Tag Archives: Rokia Traore

Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles : Mali Song of the Week

“Tu Voles”/”You fly” sings Rokia in this glorious opener to her 2016 album Né So. Where the album title itself means ‘home‘ this week’s Song means the opposite. “Home” is intended as “an invitation to think about the idea of ‘home'” and the privilege that comes with having one, whereas “Tu Voles” is about striving and escapism.

You fly, from every hurt, you release yourself, and you swim through the air, you fly…

Delving deeper; are the songs in fact on a similar theme? In both Traore encourages us to consider the plight of those that have no home and sings to us and imposes a character on us of a person so ill at ease, frightened, intimidated, troubled they resort to metaphor; they achieve that universal, impossible dream of humankind through force of will alone. This in a way is Traore’s trademark – using the beauty and vulnerability of “her raspy, quavering voice” to encourage empathy. Mark Hudson of The Telegraph notes that this must be a reflection of “the gravity” of her recent experience – and that of her homeland – noting that the album “is subdued, moody, even dark at times.” He continues;

“Since her last album, 2013’s buoyant and optimistic Beautiful Africa, she’s seen her homeland torn apart by a brutal civil war, including the recent Islamist atrocity in the capital Bamako, and has been beset by a more general sense of “things falling apart”.”

In her own way, Traoré has taken flight herself, with her artistry safely stowed in the overhead compartment. She like so many of Mali’s musicians has become a self-appointed ambassador for her country constantly flying worldwide to tell the rest of us what Mali is all about. To encourage the celebration of its beauty and understanding of its struggles. After taking up a very prestigious place on the Cannes Film Festival Main Jury last year, Traoré will be taking to the greatest stage of all this summer after being confirmed in the Glastonbury line-up – the festival continuing its marvellous support of Mali’s musicians. Malian’s have also been confirmed at a range of other festivals for example, Songhoy Blues have just completed a Tour in Australia and New Zealand, taking in those respective countries’s WOMAD festival. Back in the UK, WOMAD has yet to grace the shores of this soggy island in 2016, the festival scheduled for 28th-31st July. There French fiddle will meet Malian kora, percussion and vocals in the form of the exciting collaborative new-comers N’Diale.

So with the importance of her message evident here’s to hoping that Rokia is rewarded with one of the weekend’s precious “sunset slots” where the magic of the festival is unveiled in its entirety; liquid gold streaming around the summit of Glastonbury Tor, streaming down its sides, an image that defines the majesty of the place. Tens of thousands in a sun-soak crowd, basking in the immediacy of that fading moment before the giver of all life creeps away to brighten up a new day elsewhere on Earth.

Well, it’s that or it’ll be lashing it down with rain.



Rokia Traoré – Tu Voles


Sam Garbett is Public Affairs Coordinator for the Mali Development Group – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. 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.

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 – www.malidg.org.uk.

To get in touch with Sam for further information he’d be happy to hear from you at sam.garbett@malidg.org.uk. 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.

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Rokia Traore – Lalla

“I’ve never stopped being optimistic and also hopeful concerning Mali. And yes, I know the situation is still definitely fragile.” – Rokia Traore, speaking in August 2013

When does a conflict count as being over? After a very long, sluggish year of recovery the words of singer, songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré are as relevant as ever. This week’s song is from Traoré’s album ‘Beautiful Africa’ released under Nonesuch Records in April 2013, meaning the album was written “amid constant news of torture and killings”. The dark days of 2012/13 are over, yes, but the conflict rumbles on, churning out death and injustice. In particular, UN troops, as opposed to local Malian’s, have been targeted. In the past 15 months over 30 UN peacekeepers have been killed, and over 90 wounded – with 9 killed in a single attack earlier this month. With the world distracted by the amassing violence in Syria and Iraq, you’d say is was perfect timing for the incumbent UN mission leader to do a runner. The French forces have been also busy, intercepting an al-Qaeda convoy full of weapons and militants.

The north of the country sees the least amount of progress. The familiarity of military vehicles and the absence of tourists and trade continue to grind away at the residents of Timbuktu.A lack of resources is coupled with a lack of a strong presence from national institutions. For the most part, the basic ‘legal machinery’ needed in the north is still missing. The people of northern Mali are not seeing justice for crimes committed during the height of the conflict. This was a key Presidential promise going awry. Inventively, the government has responded with mobile information clinics which have been set up to gather testimony and deal with the back log. Soliders are being questioned too which is a positive sign. However, there is a major fear that even with the correct information in the right hands the population are still reluctant to give offenders up, especially if they are from the same ethnic group. A commentator warns “if there is no justice, others might seek revenge.

Besides the conflict, the ever global spectre of ebola looms large. It must be of some national pride that the Malian health ministry has been selected by Oxford University and the Centre for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland to trial an experimental vaccine against the virus. It is urgently needed by their West African compatriots on the ‘front line’ in the battle, where health workers have died in their hundreds. Whilst Bamako remains bruised from the continuing conflict it must count itself lucky that it hasn’t had any reported cases despite a land border with Guinea which has had over 1,200.

The song has been chosen this week to reflect this mood. The conflict rumbles on. But Mali is rumbling on too. It is relatively peaceful, but the situation is very volatile as any number of enduring issues could explode at any time. Patience is the order of the day. That and frustration. The steady but fiery rhythm of Lalla symbolises these competing emotions, and in the heart-felt, floating and roaring lyrics of Traoré there is sorrow and anger. An abrupt finish – a call for Mali to simply get its act together?

Rokia Traore – Lalla