Kongo Magni, by Boubacar Traore ( World Village/Harmonia Mundi CD)
If his compatriot Ali Farka Toure evokes the sun-struck Delta ambiance of John Lee Hooker, Boubacar Traoré has more in common with Robert Johnson’s fatalistic, dark-side-of-moon brand of sorcery. Like a lone troubadour at the crossroads, his storytelling is veiled in a complex, occult shade of indigo rather than plain blue.
His keening voice is at once primal and seductive, steeped in tragedy but starved for life, and he wields his exquisite, kora-inflected guitar like a talisman again fate. But on Kongo Magni Boubacar’s realistic, if pessimistic, view of life and its struggles is finally granted a fragile silver lining.
Although humanity is stalked by war and famine and daily life is marred by petty jealousies, God is nonetheless in his heaven and new children are born to take up the struggle. Accompanied by an empathetic small combo in which accordion and harmonica swirl around earthily resonant kamele ngoni (young person’s harp), balafon (xylophone) and traditional drums, shakers, and other percussion, Boubacar is revealed as philosophical, lyrical, resigned, guardedly hopeful, and gloriously human.
“I have to progress slowly.” There’s no point in running too fast, or planning anything. “I’m 63, but I’m in good shape,” he says with a smile. “Nonetheless, death can strike at any time. Today, I’m a man fulfilled.” He’s flattered by the full houses he still plays to, the book published on him (Mali Blues by Lieve Joris,), not to mention a film (Je chanterai pour toi, by Jacques Sarasin), but his joy is nonetheless hardly excessive. To spend time in his company is to encounter a certain tranquil melancholy.
One of Mali’s most respected singers, Boubacar Traoré is a charming man who is also very modest. Whatever sorrows he suffers, he never speaks of them. Je chanterai pour toi (I’ll sing for you) is the title of one of many songs he has dedicated to his deceased wife Pierrette.
“Dounia Tabolo” – people die but life goes on, he sings in Kongo Magni. Despite the death of loved ones, the desire to live must remain strong, says Boubacar Traoré, thinking of his latest born grand-daughter. Music means nothing unless it is delivering a message, he insists.
The new album reprises themes that have always meant a lot to him, allowing us to understand something of this secretive man. He speaks of the open wounds that fester in our lives: those of jealousy and wars, and the famines and epidemics that they bring. He sings of the bravery of Malian farmers, the lifeblood of the country; he reprises a track written by his older brother for the first anniversary of Malian independence; and sings a traditional song about the hope that children bring to save humanity.