OH 011LP OH 011LP

This is the vinyl version of Rokia Traoré's Tchamantché album from 2009. Traoré is an internationally acclaimed singer/songwriter and guitarist from Mali. It all started with a sound inside Rokia Traoré's head. The most adventurous singer-songwriter in Africa knew that she wanted to create a new musical style that was "more modern, but still African, something more blues and rock than my folk guitar." Then she heard an old Gretsch, the classic electric guitar so beloved by American rockabilly bands back in the '50s and '60s, and played by everyone from Chet Atkins to George Harrison. That was the sound she had been looking for, and it has helped to bring a fresh and startling new dimension to her exquisite and adventurous songs. This may be an African album, but it sounds nothing like most "world music" records, and has little in common with work of Rokia's great Malian compatriots like Salif Keita or Oumou Sangare "who are amazing -- but I'm not a Malian traditional singer." It will appeal to blues fans, though it's not just a blues album, and it will appeal to fans of sophisticated contemporary rock, though Rokia's always thoughtful and intriguing lyrics are mostly sung in Bambara, one of the Malian languages, with just two in French. The result is an album that constantly surprises. The only track not written by Rokia is a startling re-working of the Billie Holiday classic "The Man I Love," which starts as a slow, bluesy track in which Rokia demonstrates her delicately brooding, intimate vocals (in English), and then speeds up to develop into an extraordinary African scat work-out. The backing includes both Gretsch guitar and the n'goni, the tiny, harsh-edged West African lute that has always been an integral part of her sound. Elsewhere, many of the songs are built around laid-back, sturdy and slinky grooves, and Rokia sings with a new maturity, range and quiet confidence. The backing is often sparse, but always original, with sections where another classic guitar, the Silvertone, is matched against subtle percussion effects provided by human beat box and hip-hop star, Sly Johnson, or where the n'goni is played alongside the Western classical harp. Rokia has made dramatic changes to her music, for she no longer uses the African xylophone, the balafon, and has brought in a Western rhythm section, as well as a European production team (the recordings were mixed by Phill Brown, who has worked with Robert Plant, Robert Palmer and Bob Marley). But Rokia insists this is still an African album "because music depends on the person making it, and I am an African. But I'm from a new generation, with a new way of seeing Africa and our music." Always known for her outspoken lyrics, she tackles the problem of illegal immigration from Africa to Europe in the compelling "Tounka," and reminds Malians that they should be proud of the glories of their past, in the intimate but gloriously stirring, guitar-backed "Dounia." Then, in complete contrast, there's the personal and rhythmic "Zen," a song about having the courage to do nothing, and the dark-edged, mature and thoughtful "Dianfa." Now, at last, there's a new album that marks the latest stage in a career that has transformed Western conceptions of African music. Gatefold sleeve.