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Lobi Traoré


Rainy Season Blues



Album out on September 20, 2010




Glitterhouse Records (CD/LP – GR 711)


UK distribution by Shellshock






A review by Mary Couzens for EXTRA! EXTRA!

Lobi Traoré’s sudden, unexpected passing on June 1st has left an unfillable gap, not just in the Bamako region of Mali where he and his band often played late night bars and clubs before dancing fans, or for enthusiasts canny enough to have discovered his albums and/or many contributions to compilations and others’ albums, (among them Dirtmusic’s most recent release - BKO) but in the music world itself. Traore’s uniquely expressive guitar playing, singing and song-writing offers his listeners a lasting legacy which is a fitting testimony to his creative genius and deep soulfulness, never more so than on this, his final, uncharacteristically unplugged collection of songs - Rainy Season Blues.

Though Traoré admitted listening to many American rock and blues recordings, most notably, those of John Lee Hooker, and many Western listeners may believe his music has elements of both rock and blues in it, he never considered himself a blues musician. As he explained: “Maybe I was inspired by that. Maybe the blues was inspired by Africa. Maybe the resemblance is just a coincidence. But listen, for me the music I play comes from me, from my place. Someone who hears my music and says it’s the blues, well, to me blues is American music. We don’t even have that word. Each place has its arts. It wasn’t me who came up with the idea of Bambara blues. People kept saying, ‘Bambara blues, Bambara blues.’ In the end, I accepted it. But I don’t think the blues is our music."

But once you’ve listened to his penultimate recording, Rainy Season Blues, featuring only Traoré and his acoustic guitar, a collection which was, amazingly, recorded by Dirtmusic’s producer/guitarist Chris Eckman in a single sitting with no re-takes or over-dubs, (initially with the intention of attracting record company interest) you’re sure to become an enthusiast of his music, which was and remains, as he himself stated, from his own ‘place.’ 

On track one, ‘Moko ti y lamban don’, Traoré's expressive acoustic guitar and singing pierce the blankness of anticipation with a richly soulful meditation destined to reverberate in the consciousness.

‘Djougouya magni’ finds Traoré’s vibrant, finger-picked guitar playing paving the way for his passionate singing, drawn out to make his point, before softly drawing back in on itself again.

Track no. three ‘Hine’ is, like the overall contents of this affecting album, almost unbelievably hypnotic, with its seemingly far-flung, yet oddly familiar, expressing feelings that are almost palpable, via inspired, subtly coloured ramblings.

Traoré’s communicative treatise continues with ‘Alah ka bo’ on which his rich, warm voice and emotive guitar playing seem to speak even closer to our hearts, despite any language barriers. This song further proves the power of music to reach everyone, through the very soul of the musician himself, which is clearly, fired here.

As in the course of this remarkable collection Traoré did not refer to any pre-arranged set of songs, we are privy to the actual ebb and flow of his musical inspiration here, with ‘Melodie de Bambara Blues’ being a definite high point. This recording manages to capture that rare thing - an audience with a true master.

On ‘Siguidialen,’ Traoré's waves carry us along on a flowing stream of pure rhythm and curving arcs of expressive sound as he sings and plays in ways which excite the imagination as well as the heart-strings.

‘Sorotemimbo’ speaks of things we know not of, or do we? Through its nimbly picked guitar playing and wisely resigned, sans bitterness, singing, the song seems to be about something that is, without doubt, universal.

I wondered just what Traoré was asking in ‘Moussa de Konina’ which made me feel the depth of his desire to communicate with his audience. Never having seen him perform live, I can, sadly, only speculate. Nevertheless, there is a peaceful core to this song that signifies his acceptance of some of his own woes perhaps, while wondering at those of the world at large...Beautifully splayed out chords near the end of the song suggest the masses, or is that just my imagination?

By this juncture, the level of give and take Traoré’s music had generated in me, as a listener, was truly unprecedented, as not only did I feel as though he had spoken to me personally, but I felt as though there had been something in what he had said that had affected me to the point that it had almost become a part of me.

Instrumental ‘A Lamen’ for all intents and purposes begins with riffs reminiscent of Canned Heat’s harmonica driven, bluesy ‘On the Road Again,’ but ventures much farther and wider than that jumping off point, onto territory previously untrod in regard to blues, proving that whether he acknowledged it or not, Traoré was, at times, a bluesman extraordinaire, an affirmation which many before me, such as Bonnie Raitt, who once met and played with him, have shared.

The concluding track ‘Koumaye Niye’ is, somehow, the final rung of a circular journey that satisfies, but also leaves us dangling at the edge of a precipice, prophetically, one sign-posting the void that Traoré’s untimely passing would leave. Yet, there is a fulfilment here that is only made possible for listeners through his great soulfulness and inspiration.

Just when you think music, blues or otherwise must surely, be a done and dusted affair, along comes an artist who shows you new ways of interpreting it. We are deep in the midst of, as the Native Americans proclaimed, ‘a time of blending’, and Traoré, spontaneously swirling his Malian roots prominently through veins of similarly timeless music more familiar to Western ears, demonstrated his ability to take his listeners to new places, musically, and in themselves. For music is surely a means of mutually accessing our humanness, a process this unassuming but towering collection seemingly, embodies and enables naturally.

There is a sense of mystery in the work of every true artist which makes us wonder how they did what they did. In the case of Lobi Traoré, it is, perhaps, the strong sense of presence in his music which makes us wonder most of all, and return to it again and again. Be his music simply of Bamako, Mali in Africa, or related to American blues, as you’ve known either genre, it certainly reflects on aspects of both strains. But don’t waste time dithering over labels, just get yourself a copy of Rainy Season Blues, sit down and contemplate it’s deeply resonating properties, then, do as I’m doing now – backtrack and connect with other moments of Traoré’s stunning legacy.









Lobi Traoré 1961 - 2010


Photos © Peter Weber







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