• Mathieu Zazzo
  • Rokia Traore

Remarkable Malian singer and songwriter Rokia Traore has demonstrated a consistent desire to expand the reach of her sound since she first emerged on the global circuit in 1998, slowly adding Western instruments and influences to her gently cycling but insistent music. In fact, electric guitars elbowed out traditional n’goni, acoustic guitar, and balafon on her fourth and most recent album, Tchamantché (Nonesuch), from 2009. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the force electric guitars exert on her forthcoming Beautiful Africa—due from the same label on April 9—which marks a major transformation and a huge step forward artistically. The circular patterns remain at the heart of her music and her deeply soulful voice is generally as pretty, vigorous, and nuanced as ever, emphasizing certain melodic lines or words with shape and inflection rather than volume. But the flesh on that rhythmic skeleton is much different.