Beautiful Africa

Beautiful Africa

On her fifth album, Beautiful Africa, Malian singer/songwriter and guitarist Rokia Traoré deftly combines the traditional music of her homeland with rock and other genres. The album is produced by John Parish, best known for his work with take-no-prisoners British vocalist P.J. Harvey. The various elements—driving riffs and delicate picking, gentle pop-flavored singing and Islamic vocalizations, psych-like vibes and desert-blues chugs, lyrics in various languages—play off one another nicely. The n’goni (a West African string instrument)—expertly played by Mamah Diabaté—has a starring role; female backup vocals are another key element. One of the most exciting tunes is “Kouma,” where drummer Sebastian Rochford lets loose and electric guitar gets down and dirty. “Sarama” has the soothing quality of mellow folk-rock colored by n’goni runs and quiet percussion. On the lengthy “N’Téri,” Traoré intensely intones line after line over low-key acoustic bass, n’goni, guitar, and drums. Then in the last section, the band picks up the tempo as Traoré and the backup singers engage in call and response before coming together in delightful harmony.

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