Friday, February 6, 2009

Rokia Traore: groovin to the music of the smallest woman in the world

Rokia Traore's guitar is bigger than she is. It's really quite incredible. And what's even crazier is that people always look bigger on stage than they really are! So she must really be tiny.

I saw the Malian singer/songwriter and her 5-part band play as part of the Stanford Lively Arts 2008-2009 season the other night. It was a really beautiful show; she's created a really gorgeous blend of traditional West African griot music with more modern genres.  I really wish I could tell you about her AMAZING band, but the printed program didn't list the names of her musicians. I can't even tell you the name of the neat string instrument one of the guys was was playing, but you can see it at the beginning of the video below.

Rokia didn't speak to much to the audience throughout the show, but she did take the time to explain the meaning of the song "Tounka" and the problem of African emigration.  She said emigration is not the answer to Africa's social and political problems, it is only making things worse.  She was pointing specifically to the mass African immigration to Europe and that is because of Europe colonization that Africa has most of these problems in the first place.  It must be up to Africans to come together to fix the problems, not run away.

Her band laid down the most awesome grooves while Rokia and her backup singer danced.  I loved when Rokia broke into some Fela Kuti during their 15 minute encore (the college students a row back from us freaked out in excitement).  Watch the video below and also this one on Watch some of the other videos on too, this website has some of the most interesting talks and performances like Pilobolus Dance Theater, a Brain Scientist who recalls the experience of having a stroke and an English Knight talking about the importance of Art Education.
Unfortunately, I can't find anything to show you that really captures the energy of Rokia's show, it was way more rockin' that anything I could find on youtube. I've also put a song on the "music I like" section over on the right. 

This is a link to her new album "Tchamantche", including a cool cover of Billie Holliday's "The Man I Love." If you listen to some of the shorter samples, you can get an idea of her higher energy tunes.

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