Surrounded by old photos of his “Malian Elvis” days, 60-year-old musician Boubacar Traoré rests his head on his guitar and unfurls a precise pop-folk lament, his fingers moving in blues formations, his lithe voice coiling in a hypnotic muezzin drone. “Kar Kar” never addresses director Jacques Sarasin’s camera, instead blessing his own biography with mournful, journeyman performances.
Friends recount the revolutionary non-griot’s 1960s radio wake-up calls heralding a free Mali. They tell of his departure from music to raise a family, the subsequent loss of his wife, and his life as an immigrant in France. As the stories unfold, lingering shots of everyday life amid the craggy Dogon hills and the bustle of waterway commerce recall the observant modes of Abderrahmane Sissako or Abbas Kiarostami.
The resurrected relic plays his trusty Takamine in unlikely public spaces, duetting at points with kora player Ballake Sissoko and Ali Farka Touré. The reverent pacing lags a bit, but the film’s meditation on the struggle to find spirituality that reconciles Islam with tribal belief systems is powerful in its understatement, and its wordless observation of France’s Malian community quietly evidences daily cultural preservation amid the hard labor.