Rokia Traoré

Wanita

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Wanita is a mild quantum leap from Traoré's debut, Mouneïssa. The style she cultivated on her debut -- a glorious mix of the singer/songwriter with the rootsy, acoustic instruments of her native Mali -- is refined here, and she approaches everything with more confidence. She's very much a rarity in African terms, a female singer/songwriter, and one whose lyrics are very progressive, dealing with the rights of women in a patriarchal society. But she's representative of a new generation that has brought forth a lot of professional women, for whom she's become a figurehead. She lauds hard work, her people, and the freedom to love. Her own acoustic guitar work might be relatively simple, but the arrangements of her band fill out the sound wonderfully, especially the large, xylophone-like balafon and the n'goni, a kind of lute. By keeping this very Malian, Traoré ensures her music remains quite authentic, and speaks to her own people, rather than any sellout to Western values. At the same time, it's very appealing and rich on its own terms, her lulling voice a far cry from the stridency of many Malian female Wassoulou singers, something Western ears can accept quite readily -- a kind of African Joni Mitchell, but with a more acute social conscience. Hers is a talent that's beginning to find full bloom with this record, fulfilling the promise of her earlier disc, and proving that the ground she broke before is a very fertile furrow indeed. Wanita establishes her at the head of a genre, not merely by virtue of doing it first, but by the sheer talent as a writer and singer which she brings to it.

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