Rokia Traore’s ‘Tchamantché’

I’ve come a bit late to Rokia Traore’s most recent record Tchamantché, and I might have missed it completely but for Stern’s world music shop displaying it prominently in store. But better late than never, because it’s hardly been off my record deck since I bought it.

It is a gorgeous set, which manages the difficult feat of combining African and ‘Western’ instrumentation, and African and American songs, while maintaining an utterly African sensibility and identity.

The opening track, Dounia, is above, courtesy of you tube, and it sounds like a fine version of a traditional west African song*. But for me the best track is a sensational cover of ‘The Man I Love‘, the George and Ira Gershwin song made famous by Billie Holiday. It opens with a fractured jazz-inflected introduction, goes into a lyric where her accented English seems to make her more fragile, as if she was clinging to her man only by her fingernails, and then ends with a section which combines scat with an African idiom. But don’t take my word for it. You can hear it via the US radio network NPR, which had it as its ‘song of the day earlier this year.

Without wishing to seem over-excitable (at my age I’m supposed to be world-weary about music, after all), the frisson I got from listening to the record reminded me of the first time I heard Salif Keita or Ali Farka Toure (to whom the record is dedicated). There are glowing reviews all over the net, from the Guardian, to Feminist Review, to Dusted. And more on You Tube.

* I may be wrong about this: the CD’s notes  say that Rokia Traore wrote all the songs except for The Man I Love.

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