Music

Boubacar Traoré: Dounia Tabolo

Mali's last original bluesman, Boubacar Traoré, takes a trip to the Mississippi Delta on trans-Atlantic triumph Dounia Tabolo.

It's no coincidence that the acoustic traditions of West Africa and the Deep South fit so well together, and it isn't always for good reasons: the transatlantic slave trade brought the banjo to the states along with countless human lives, and the blues never came from an easy life. Out of the sorrows, though, have come sublime forms of expression. On his new album Dounia Tabolo, legendary Malian blues musician Boubacar Traoré follows those cross-cultural flows back and forth over the ocean, and he creates deeply moving music that brings together the melancholy best of two worlds.


Boubacar Traoré

Dounia Tabolo

(Lusafrica)

Release Date: 17 Nov 2017

Boubacar Traoré is one of a dying breed, the last famous bluesman active when Mali gained its independence from France in the 1960s. His voice has always been warm, and the years have not taken away its solid strength and clarity. Instead, time has opened up doors of musical collaboration, perhaps never more boldly than on the stateside tour Traoré takes on Dounia Tabolo. Quintessentially Southern sounds of Creole, Cajun, and zydeco music wind their way around the Kassonké traditions Traoré interprets through his unique musical point of view, and the result sounds meant-to-be, each element in balance. There is a coziness to the arrangements, but there is enough space for each artist involved to spread out and, when appropriate, meander from the main lines to add some exciting flourishes.

Working with Traoré are a number of musicians impressive in their own right. Longtime collaborator Vincent Bucher's harmonica turns songs like "Kanou (Kanga Keniogon Fe)" and "Dis Lui Que Je L'Aime Comme Mon Pays" into rousing, moving masterpieces of old-time folk music. Leyla McCalla, known both as a former cellist for the Carolina Chocolate Drops and for her often Haitian-influenced solo work, lends her soothing strings and gripping voice to wistful love song "Je Chanterai Pour Toi". When Corey Harris joins in with his expert guitar, there's no question about his skill as the delta blues take center stage, and Cedric Watson on violin and washboard brings a wave of bayou magic to every piece he touches. Alassane Samaké is, as always, indispensable on the calabash, adding soft percussive touches to perfectly complement the full ensemble. This is an all-star group, with the expertise and sonic camaraderie that makes them the perfect group to back the venerable Traoré.

They do not disappoint, telling story after story of life and love, the colors always rich and earthy, the textures always varied. There is a freedom in the breaking of cultural barriers as it is done here; nothing prevents the musicians from exploring several countries' worth of roots music all at the same time. In doing so, the music that comes forth is both familiar and innovative; with Dounia Tabolo, Boubacar Traoré has, once again, completely reframed his music.

It's hard to know when we'll hear from Traoré again - over the decades, he has come and gone with little notice, sometimes for decades at a time - but whenever he next returns, the musician affectionately known as Karkar will surely be ready to surprise.

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