CIIS Public Programs & Performances and Amoeba Music present singer/songwriter Rokia Traore on Friday, November 22nd at the Nourse Theater in San Francisco.
It all started with a sound inside Rokia Traore's head. One of the most adventurous singer/songwriters in Africa knew that she wanted to create a musical style "more modern, but still African, something more blues and rock than my folk guitar." Then she heard an old Gretsch, the classic electric guitar beloved by American rockabilly bands back in the fifties and sixties, and played by artists from Chet Atkins to George Harrison. That was the sound she had been looking for, and it has helped bring a fresh and startling new dimension to her exquisite and adventurous songs.
The daughter of a Malian diplomat posted to the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East, Traore studied in Brussels and worked in a rap group, before deciding to go back to Mali to create the music she wanted, which was "not pop, not jazz, not classical, but something contemporary with traditional instruments."
She survived by washing dishes, cooking in a restaurant, and working as a housekeeper, as she found musicians for her new songs backed by her own acoustic guitar, the West African n'goni, and the balafon. She became a success back in Europe, where she was hailed as the "African Discovery of 1997" after performing at the Angouleme Festival in France. Recording contracts and international tours followed, as Rokia continued to develop her musical ideas and delight audiences around the world.
Since then she has continued to experiment and explore new ideas. Her album Bowmboi included a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet and was awarded a prestigious BBC Radio 3 World Music Award. In 2005, she was invited to join an all-star cast that included Fontella Bass and Dianne Reeves touring the U.S. with the Billie and Me project, celebrating the life of Billie Holiday. That's when she first sang "The Man I Love" in a powerful duet with Reeves. Her 2009 album Tchamantche reflected her new fascination with the Gretsch electric guitar and won a Victoires de la Musique, the French equivalent of a Grammy, as well as a Songlines Artist of the Year award.
She has twice collaborated with maverick director Peter Sellars, who in 2006 invited her to write and perform a work for his New Crowned Hope project, celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Traore replied by imagining Mozart as a griot in the time of the 13th-century African ruler Sundiata Keita, whose empire centered around Mali. She also recently collaborated with Nobel Prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison and Sellars on the theater piece Desdemona, bringing an African dimension to the story of Shakespeare's tragic heroine. The piece premiered in Vienna in the summer of 2011 and received its New York debut at Lincoln Center that fall. The Guardian called it "a remarkable, challenging, and bravely original new work."
Traore is indeed a remarkable artist, and it is difficult to think of anyone else who can switch from ancient Malian culture to acting and dancing to African rock 'n' roll. Her concert for CIIS Public Programs & Performances will feature Rokia Traore as the lead singer of her own band performing her original songs, including cuts from her recently released album, Beautiful Africa.
Get your tickets HERE!