Rokia Traoré Launches Three-Show Series in London with "Exquisite, Cool, Clear Vocals" (Guardian)
Rokia Traoré has made her return to London for the first of two major projects she will unveil there this summer. This week, the Malian singer-songwriter presents a specially-curated series of three shows produced by the Barbican based on aspects integral to Malian music and its traditions: Donguili – Donke – Damou (Sing – Dance – Dream). This is followed in July by her performance in the UK premiere of Desdemona, a staged concert co-written with Nobel Prize–winning novelist Toni Morrison and directed by Peter Sellars, featuring an intimate, profound conversation between Shakespeare's Desdemona and her African nurse Barbary.
Rokia Traoré appeared live on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Tuesday to coincide with her Barbican performances this week. She performed two songs live: "Kèlè Mandi," from her 2004 Nonesuch Records debut album Bowmboï, and a new song, "Mama." You can listen to the show at bbc.co.uk, where Traoré's segment begins a little over 90 minutes in. She also appeared on the BBC World Service's The World Today yesterday to discuss the current political situation in Mali; that can also be found at bbc.co.uk.
Donguili – Donke – Damou sees Traoré performing in three different London venues. She began the series with a performance of Damou (Dream) in the historic Wilton’s Music Hall on Monday, an intimate acoustic evening of music and traditional Malian and Manding storytelling, featuring kora, ngoni, and voice. The Guardian gives four stars to the performance, with reviewer Robin Denselow calling her "the finest and most adventurous female singer in Africa" and describing the show as a "gently powerful acoustic tribute to her Malian roots and the remarkable history of a country that is in turmoil." In Damou, says Denselow, "she proved to be as compelling a storyteller as she is singer." The concert found "Traoré's exquisite, cool, clear vocals matched against mesmeric, repeated riffs from her musicians." Read the complete review at guardian.co.uk.
For the second concert this Friday, June 22, in the Barbican Hall, Traoré is joined by a group of UK, European, and emerging African artists. Donguili (Sing) centers on the collaboration between these musicians, featuring reinterpretations of existing songs and repertoire developed at the Music Institute Traoré founded in Bamako, which works with emerging young musicians.
This Saturday, June 23, in the final show of the series, Donke (Dance), Rokia Traoré offers a celebration of "rock & Mandingue,” featuring award-winning PJ Harvey producer John Parrish on guitars, drummer Seb Rochford (Polar Bear), and bassist Nicolai Munch-Hansen plus some of the same musicians from the Barbican Hall show in a club gig at Village Underground.
Explaining her inspiration, Rokia Traoré says: “As I have listened and appreciated the epic of the Mande, embroidered with beautiful melodies, I also felt the desire to learn and interpret it my way from the Mandingue epic of griots.”
For additional information on this week's shows, go to barbican.org.uk.
Rokia Traoré returns to the Barbican Hall on July 19 and 20 for the UK premiere of Desdemona. In response to Peter Sellars’ 2009 staging of Othello, Traoré and Toni Morrison collaborated to create a work inspired by Desdemona’s African nurse, Barbary. Moving beyond centuries of colonialism and racism, the two characters share stories, songs and hope for a different future, against a backdrop of African and Western musical textures. Traoré herself sings the role of Barbary, and the part of Desdemona is played by actress Tina Benko, who performed the role in the production in Paris, Berlin, New York, and Berkeley. For tickets, go to barbican.org.uk.
Desdemona is part of The World Shakespeare Festival, produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company for London 2012 Festival, the 12-week nationwide celebration that begins today. Kronos Quartet (which can be heard on Traoré's album Bowmboï) performs Terry Riley's Sun Rings as part of the festival and the 2012 Cultural Olympiad at the Riverside Museum in Glasgow on July 15.