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Rokia Traoré

Few artistic careers are at once as free and as rooted in tradition as Malian singer Rokia Traoré's. Indeed, she has often been called unique, post-traditional and mutant, so easily does she seem to find herself at unknown crossroads that are both unpredictable and yet determined by her personal history.

 

Rokia Traoré's voice is uniquely Malian in its power and tone, folky in its restraint and precision, and rock'n'roll in its love for new encounters, energy, and shock value. What left an indelible mark on her? Serge Gainsbourg's Aux armes et cætera, which her father played loudly in the morning, but also an Ella Fitzgerald LP, and albums by Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, Mark Knopfler, and Ali Farka Touré, as well as cassettes of griot music later in Bamako, when her friends were only listening to rap. If Rokia Traoré is seen as an icon of world music, celebrated for the elegance of a kind of music that embodies the borderless culture of a new century, she is also, thanks to her unique career choices—a show written with Toni Morrison and directed by Peter Sellars; her assimilation of the legacy of the griots, even though she isn't part of their caste—the symbol of a changing Mali. At the 2017 edition of the Festival d'Avignon, she presented a new show reflecting the boldness of her culture and her career as a singer.

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