Meg Reilly Mus 593R: African Pop Music Concert Review April 16, 2010 Realizing a New World: A Live

Performance by Rokia Traore Some of the best live music has the ability to transport us beyond the walls of a venue and into a world that maybe exists nowhere else. In smoky, dimly lit clubs we realize for an hour or two a place in which self-consciousness leaves us, the cold can't reach us, our landlords can't hassle us, and our e-mail in-boxes can't steal away time from us. On the East Coast, the clubs are no longer smoky and the modern indie pop scene has bred a culture based on self-consciousness, where half the time people are glued to their I-pods and doing more than bobbing your head pegs you as some kind of freak. But on th the evening of April 14 , 2010, an unlikely venue, the massive UMass Fine Arts Center, became exactly the kind of dim, intimate, and worry free entertainment space that is so hard to find these days. As the fog machines fumed and the lights faded, the unassumingly petite Rokia Traore and her band took the stage, and for awhile we were transported to another place that, as she would make clear later, may not exist now but which she genuinely believes we will see in our lifetime. Traore's unique blend of traditional Malian music with American blues and rock was far more than a fusion of international styles, but a genuine realization of a new genre of music that speaks to a worldwide audience. The West African and American sounds blended so seamlessly, that it seems almost inappropriate to discuss the various continental differences individually. The sound-scape was decidedly worldly in its approach, without it being stuck on a record shelf entitled “World Music.” Rather than

and even an mbira at one point. which. Similarly. or. most likely from France where Traore now lives. The black members used instruments of Africa. that the racial divide was almost instantly erased.emphasizing the unique ethnic elements of her sound. it is interesting to note the makeup of her band. And while all but one song were sung in languages other than English (though I was able to understand some of the . A great deal of the songs incorporated interlocking parts. The ngoni player (whose last name I couldn't help but notice was Diabate like those of the Jeli musical caste) would at times apply pedals. generally stuck to European instruments such as the electric guitar. while at other times opting for its more natural sound which was slightly less sustained and more percussive. with layered percussion. her instrument of choice was an electric guitar. shakers. and drum kit. making the instrument sound exactly like an electric guitar. including the ngoni. as they only varied when Traore stopped singing. the guitar player would sometimes shift into a damping technique that made his instrument sound more organic and similar to the ngoni. perhaps more closely. The white members. Traore became the visible representation of the bridge her music was creating between the two worlds. But while Traore's vocals had a decidedly African flavor. Likewise. In this way. Traore's vocals stole the show and hearts of the audience. Traore transported us to a place that was culturally rich without being culturally divided. she turned every song into a piece that would most likely speak to a large part of the globe. electric bass. and almost all were based around ostinato patterns. the mbira which appeared in the second song. served to complement her voice. the instruments were all used in such a variety of ways. And what a voice it was. In doing so. That being said.

rather than approaching it as an indirect story with the subject in the third person. From high. At one point she also sang “Running away will not make you a man” and I was again struck by the similarity to other African songs which often have strict ideas of gender identities. But the simple lyrics spoke volumes about African life. her voice traversed the entire vocal spectrum. the control of her vibrato was stunning: it could be rapid fire and almost harsh. The fact that it was sung in such a direct way. or she could remove it altogether for real clarity. the meaning or intent never felt lost on us. reminiscent of Arabic vocals. a fairly straightforward blues piece. . The band never covered her. visceral weight. to words sung so fast that it sounded like hip-hop. however. and when she became more impassioned the words left her mouth with such speed that clearly she had something to say. but it was not always so.handful of French songs). more spaced and natural sounding. crystal clear notes to a low growl that carried genuine. as though the subject were listening. when she was singing praises of the band and the audience she seemed to enunciate even more clearly. The expressive capabilities of such a unique voice went far beyond anything her words could convey. very few American pop songs ever discourage drug use. Her style was typically more melismatic. though certainly a generalization. struck me as very similar to many African lyrics which often direct issues right at a person when seeking change. The words. were clearly significant. And. The one song in English was perhaps the most traditionally American. thus her song was clearly speaking to an audience that goes beyond our borders. The range of colors she was able to manipulate were unlike any other vocalist I'd seen live. And when she did come to rest on a sustained note. The song was decrying a person's drug habit as a form of escapism.

Though we as an audience had been transported for an hour and a half to a magical place free of fear and stress. When she and the band started performing again immediately after that statement. was not that she had the courage to say it to a foreign audience who in many cases probably often dream of getting away from home. her unique music with its universal appeal is seeking to transport the entire world to that same place for good. the smoky atmosphere and the dim. Her voice gentle and soft. she spoke of paying homage to Miriam Makeba of South Africa and the end of apartheid. I was surprised that her spoken voice could be just as powerful.With such an expressive singing voice. . jewel-toned lights took on a new meaning. but that she genuinely believes she will see it in her lifetime. For her it is not a vague hope. The most striking thing about this final statement. Here's hoping she and others like her make it happen. the captivating music. and she told us of her very personal dream that one day there will no longer be a need for migration around the world. that some day we will all have places we can call home and know that we won't have to leave. she profusely thanked the audience (though in the encore she teased us about our unwillingness to get out of our seats).

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