'This is an album full of contemplative and meditative pleasures... Bowmboi is...
Nick Reynolds 2003
On paper Rokia Traore is a bit of a radical. She's one of Mali's leading new singers, although she's not a traditional griot musician. She tries new ideas, combining traditional instruments that aren't usually brought together, and on this album works with the classical musicians, the Kronos Quartet.To my untrained ear her experiments are entirely successful.
The daughter of a Malian' diplomat she built her career in France before returning to Mali and is only now becoming a star there.On this, her third album, she sounds right at the heart of the traditions of West African music.
Rokia's vocal style is very much her own. She doesn't have the high pitched, keening, attack of Oumou Sangare, or the rougher, deeper tang of Kandia Kouyate, both of them great female artists from Mali. Her voice is quavery and bird-like, soft, fragile and attractive. Curiously, it reminds me a little of Ethiopian and even Asian vocal styles. But it has an inner power, and on the faster paced songs she sings with impressive authority. "Mariama", is a passionate, intense duet with male griot singer Ousame Sacko, and one of the album's highlights.
The gentleness of Rokia's voice means this album is a reflective, subtle experience even on the faster songs like "Sara" or "Kote Don". And the two collaborations with The Kronos Quartet work extremely well. The strings lay down a pulsing layer of shifting tones and Rokia murmurs and declaims over them, and on the lovely "Manian" there's a little vocal part that sounds like Laurie Anderson's "O Superman". These tracks don't feel like experiments at all; they sound like something that could have been created in West Africa anytime in the last thousand years.
This is an album full of contemplative and meditative pleasures. If you love Malian music you will probably already have heard of Rokia. If you haven't Bowmboi is certainly worth adding to your collection.