The cover of Rokia Traore’s latest album shows the singer fashionably attired, complete with a fedora-style hat, sitting on an amplifier with bare feet. Her guitar is propped up against a wall and she’s staring off into the distance. Her CD ‘Beautiful Africa’ is indeed, beautiful.
This is one of those recordings where you think you love the track you’re hearing most of all, only to have the next one become a new favorite. The songs are recorded in three languages: French, Bambara and English.
Some of the tracks I particularly enjoyed include “Tuit Tuit” or “Tweet, Tweet,” representing the sound of birds in Mali. Incidentally, it’s also the nickname of Rokia in her country. “Sarama” is a tribute to the strong women of Mali, and despite the title, “Melancholy” is quite a lively, upbeat song.
However, all the songs have an enchanting quality because Rokia has a voice like no other. At times it is tremulous and fluttery, but Rokia can also convey such strength and conviction. She composed all the songs, and though at times, one detects a certain jazziness, as in the title track, “Beautiful Africa,” there can be no doubt this is Malian music. The n’goni, an African precursor to the banjo, is featured prominently on all the tracks. It’s a hypnotic CD, and no doubt I’ll continue to have different favorite songs as I continue to listen and re-listen to it.