Rokia Traore may sometimes strum an acoustic guitar and trill softly, but she is no folkie. Traore, a Malian singer/songwriter, will be atBarns of Wolf Trap Thursday night in support of her latest cd Tchamantche. A diplomat’s daughter who has lived in the Middle East and elsewhere, Traore mixes traditional Malian styles with subtle influences from other genres. While she often uses a more quiet, lullaby tone than traditional female warblers from her homeland do, she occasionally moves up and down the scales in an imprssive manner. Tchamantche has a stripped-down, minimalist feel. On “Kounandi” Traore sings in a whispering fashion over a pinging steel drum. Traore frequently mixes her breathy vocals over her own Ali Farka Toure-inspired electric guitar strumming.
On “Koronoko” she starts her vocals off soothingly while strumming her electric Gretsch in a Northern Mali desert blues style. Soon her voice gets louder and echoing percussion makes an appearance lending further atmospheric drama to the cut. Nonesuch added to the American version of the cd her Billie Holiday inspired version of Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Traore usually sings in Bambara or French but she does this jazzy Malian rendition in English. Much of her live set will likely use faster tempos.
When I saw her in 2004, she turned much of the second half of the set into polyrhythmic dance music. She was joined by a skilled band on a variety of instruments—two ngonis (skin-covered lute), djembe drum, calabash, balafon (xylophone with slats on gourds) and electric bass.
Rokia Traore at 8 p.m. Thursday February 12 at the Barns of Wolf Trap in Vienna, Va.