album reviews

Rokia Traoré
Nonesuch Records (2009)

Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré has a voice that is dramatic and entrancing -- and yet that's only part of what makes her fourth release, "Tchamantché," so compelling. The album's real allure is its blend of traditional and contemporary elements, which isn't surprising given the diversity of Traoré's background.

The daughter of a diplomat, Traoré was raised on three continents before returning to Mali. Much of her music sounds like African folk songs played with contemporary arrangements; particularly stunning are the trancelike "Dianfa" and the staccato guitar plucking on the title track, which turns her voice into a supporting instrument.

Most of "Tchamantché" is sung in Bambara and French, with one notable exception, a cover of the Gershwins' "The Man I Love." Traoré's take is similar to Billie Holiday's famous version (it has the same jazz phrasings), but Traoré gives it an even more prolonged pace, accentuated further by her thick accent and the trippy scatting that closes the song.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 6 February 2009, Page WE07
.: Tchamantché on