Rokia Traoré, Tchamantché (Nonesuch, 2009)

Malian singer/guitarist Rokia Traoré has been a part of the African music scene for over a decade at this point. She first came to my attention in 2005, when she visited Amercia to promote her 2003 release Bowmboï. She took her time recording a follow-up, though, as her latest album Tchamantché did not came out just this past year.

On Tchamantché, Traoré mixes and matches a number of musical styles, from her homeland and beyond. For better or worse the album peaks immediately, with the simmering, ominous opening song "Dounia."  This song is particularly noteworthy for the way it incorporates a traditional African stringed instrument called a n'goni (it sounds like a kora but is much smaller) into what is otherwise a bluesy rock arrangement.  On the song "Zen," Traoré adopts the singing style of French cabaret to the accompaniment of African percussion and a human beat box.  "Kounanda" features some very pretty instrumental interplay between the n'goni and a harp. Tchamantché also includes a surprising yet effective cover of an American jazz standard, George and Ira Gershwin's "The Man I Love."

The problem with the album is that most of the songs are either mid-tempo or slower.  There is one good upbeat song called "Tounka," but Traoré doesn't cut loose even on that song like she did on "Nienafing" off of Bowmboï. Still, Rokia Traoré is a free-spirited artist willing to take chances, and Tchamantché has enough going for it to justify giving it a few listens.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott


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