Boubacar Traoré Dounia Tabolo
Review by Cliff Furnald
"Dis lui que je l'aime comme mon pays"
In the late1980s, an older gentleman with a guitar started to make a splash in the African music scene. In 1990, the London based Stern's Music released his album Mariama, the first time most of the world, including myself, had heard Boubacar Traoré. At the time I wrote, "Mariama is a solo affair, just voice and guitar, recorded so raw you can hear his fingers on the strings and his breath between vocal lines." It was my introduction to him and I was spellbound.
It was not his first time in the spotlight. In the 1960s, the young Traoré was becoming well known for his song writing and unique guitar style, one that was ultimately emulated by many better known artists decades later. His fame came to an abrupt halt with the overthrow of the Malian government in 1968, and seen as a favorite of the previous regime, he was marginalized on the TV and radio that had made him famous.
All these years and 10 albums later, little has changed in the music of the man many locals affectionately call Kar Kar (a reference to his soccer playing youth). The 2017 album, Dounia Tabolo, continues his trio effort the last few years, with French harmonica player Vincent Bucher and Malian percussionist Alassane Samaké wrapping around Traoré's voice and guitar.
The album steps out from his previous releases, though. The trio took themselves to Lafayette, Louisiana, in the south center of the state, to bring the roots of the blues back full circle as the trio sat down at various times with some of the best in American folk and blues. Cedric Watson, born in Texas but now a vital part of the Louisiana Cajun, Creole and Zydeco scene, brought his violin and washboard. New York City cellist and singer Leyla McCalla brought a global sense of song (her parents were both Haitian, and she was a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops). Corey Harris, born in Colorado and a longtime resident of Charlottesville, Virginia completes the new sound with his blues (and sometimes lightly reggae inflected) guitar work.
"Ben de Kadi" (excerpt)
The bulk of the album sticks to the Traoré formula, with solo guitar and vocal pieces, and variations on the guitar, harmonica and percussion trio they have honed to perfection. Yet, it all feels fresh and alive, never cranked out as a visit to the past. Even classics from his repertoire like "Maciré" and "Je Chanterai Pour Toi" seem new again. If there is a standout, it may be the scratching rock and rhythm of "Dis lui que je l'aime comme mon pays," an eight minute romp with all six musicians, that seems to bring such joy to the singer's voice. Leyla McCalla also adds a beautiful vocal counterpoint to one of Traoré's most famous songs, "Je Chanterai Pour Toi," and again, the singer seems energized by the interplay.
"Je Chanterai Pour Toi" (excerpt)
Over 25 years of recording for European labels, Boubacar Traoré has never lost his groove, his calm sense of himself and his music. The very fact that there is nothing radical or new in Dounia Tabolo might be, in itself, what makes it radical. - Cliff Furnald