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Like the recent appearance of Malian singer Vieux Farka Toure, tonight’s Khaira Arby gig at DC9 carries some additional weight because of the political turmoil in their country. Now on her third tour of North America, this high-pitched wailer seems determined to develop a following on this side of the Atlantic. Over email, she answered a few questions.
Washington City Paper: Tell me about the song for peace you recorded with Vieux Farka Toure and others, and how it happened?
Khaira Arby: The American musician JeConte asked us to collaborate with him on some recordings, and that was one of the songs. At first it was about his love for Mali and its music. But the song took on more meaning as the coup began while we were in the studio. It was a plea for peace.
WCP: On your first U.S. tour you had additional women singers and musicians, compared to your smaller group on later U.S. tours. Is the size of your group a matter of money or an artistic choice? How does it change your group’s sound?
KA: Both. There is certainly a big expense to tour. It is something that is very hard to do. Also, I perform with all different sizes of groups. The sound changes all the time even at home. If I am performing on a large festival stage at home, I can bring a larger group. But when we are at a smaller event like a wedding, I bring the smaller core group. The sound doesn’t change very much because these are my core musicians.
WCP: Tell me about the new EP.
KA: The new EP has songs that we are working on for our upcoming full album release. These songs were recorded in Brooklyn and so we had a good time. The new release we hope to complete by the fall of 2012.
WCP: Do you worry that fundamentalist sharia law could be imposed and limit your life as a singer?
KA: The problem is not Islam or sharia. The problem is political. It is not a problem of religion. Islam welcomes songs in praise of Allah and life. The situation in Mali is very complicated and a solution has not yet presented itself. We are hopeful.
WCP: What do you have to say about the issues in Mali—-the rebellion, the coup, etc.?
KA: The innocent victims are my worry. Many families have fled the north to neighboring countries or to the desert countryside or to the south of Mali. My own family has fled to the south. So have the families of the members of my band. We are very worried for our families safety and especially for those who have remained in Timbuktu and the north. Their circumstances are now extremely difficult. The coup and rebellion have created a humanitarian crisis. First, I pray that everyone will help the innocent women, children and families. They are the ones who are suffering.
Khaira Arby performs at 10:15 p.m. tonight with Eme & Heteru at DC9. $12.