Rokia Traoré

Bowmboï

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For her third outing, Rokia Traore refines the work on her first two discs. In other words, she's a Malian singer/songwriter, aware of her country's roots, but hardly bound by them. She's not a griotte, and she's not following in the Wassoulou footsteps of, say, Oumou Sangare. With a gentle, lulling voice and acoustic instrumentation she tells her tales. Even on the faster material, such as "Mariama," where she duets with Ousame Sacko, there's a mildness -- although it covers some steel. The true surprises here are the pair of cuts where she works with the Kronos Quartet, making for a combination that works far more effectively than anyone might expect. "Manian," for example, is string-heavy, but still utterly natural, and quite ineffably West African. Traore has become an accomplished writer, one whose reflective words and melodies seep into the brain and stay there. With this she's turned the corner to major international stardom.

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