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Nonesuch Records releases singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Rokia Traoré’s Beautiful Africa in the US on September 24, 2013. The record, which was released internationally earlier in the year to critical acclaim, was produced by English musician John Parish (PJ Harvey, Eels, Sparklehorse). Uncut said, “Traoré’s sinuous voice sits at the centre of a hybrid maelstrom that combines the raw, earthy source of Malian rhythms with snarling rock guitars and pneumatic garage energy,” and called it “the record fans of her explosive live shows always hoped she would make and a career highpoint.” Beautiful Africa’s lyrics are sung in Traoré’s native languages of French and Bambara, as well as some English.
Pitchfork described Traoré’s previous record, 2009’s Tchamantché, as “a guitar album of a particularly understated bent ... hauntingly spare yet ridiculously well-defined, the timbre and tone of every string presented in perfect resolution.” Tchamantché won a Victoires de la Musique (the equivalent of a Grammy Award in France) and a Songlines Artist of the Year Award for Traoré.
The daughter of a Malian diplomat who was posted to the US, Europe, and the Middle East, Traoré studied sociology in Brussels before embarking on her musical career. Although based in Bamako, Traoré has, for her son’s safety, temporarily relocated to Paris due to the current conflict in Mali. Her music draws upon her homeland’s traditions as well as the European and American rock and pop she has listened to throughout her life.
Traoré has explored a breadth of directions in her career. She recently collaborated with Nobel Prize–winning novelist Toni Morrison and MacArthur “Genius” Grant winning director Peter Sellars on the theater piece Desdemona. The piece premiered in Vienna in the summer of 2011 and received its New York premiere at Lincoln Center that fall; its UK premiere was at the Barbican in London in the summer of 2012. The Guardian called it “a remarkable, challenging and bravely original new work.”
The Barbican also produced a three-night series of shows by Traoré last summer, entitled Donguili – Donke – Damou (Sing – Dance – Dream). For the Sing evening, held at the Barbican, Traoré and mandolinist/former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones joined young musicians from Traoré’s training program in Mali, Foundation Passerelle. Dance, at the Village Underground rock club, featured Traoré and her band playing the high-energy, danceable shows she is well known for—joined by Parish on guitar. And for Dream, which took place in an East End theater, Traoré narrated an ancient Malian tale, with occasional musical interludes. Australia’s Sydney Festival also presented Donguili – Donke – Damou. Traoré was awarded the inaugural Roskilde Festival World Music Award in 2009 for her work with Foundation Passerelle.
Last fall, Traoré joined Damon Albarn’s UK train tour Africa Express, performing scheduled concerts in Middlesbrough, Glasgow, Manchester, Cardiff, Bristol, and London as well as pop-up performances at railway stations, schools, factories, offices, shopping centers, and private homes. Other musicians on the tour included John Paul Jones, Amadou Bagayoko, Baaba Maal, and Paul McCartney.
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