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Boubacar Traore 

Macire (Indigo)

Wednesday, Oct 11 2000
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If you were to take a train back to the birth of the blues, past Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson and all their Mississippi and Chicago compatriots, past the call-and-response field hollers that African slaves brought to the New World, you'd land back in West Africa. That link today is somewhat oblique: Trying to connect modern-day African musicians like Salif Keita or Youssou N'Dour with American bluesmen such as John Lee Hooker and B.B. King can get a bit iffy. But Boubacar Traore's gorgeous new Macire, the first album by the Malian guitarist and singer to receive wide distribution in the U.S., makes the connection plain.

Traore's career has by any standard been an oddity. Even though he was known in the 1960s as the "Malian Chubby Checker" for his Western-style hit "Malian Twist," Boubacar eventually dropped out of sight because he didn't belong to the Malian musician caste. For 20 years, many Malians assumed him to be dead; in 1989 he was rediscovered by some journalists who happened upon his small village. But he quickly retreated from view again -- this time because he was mourning his wife's unexpected death. Now he's back once again, and the only question Macire raises is how he could have stayed unknown for so long. A gem of an album that mixes Traore's gentle fingerpicked acoustic guitar with traditional West African instruments like the balafon and the djembe, Macire is full of a kind of African folk blues that fellow Malian Ali Farka Toure or the late S.E. Rogie from Sierra Leone have hinted at as well.

Traore's music isn't the blues in the traditional American sense -- these aren't 12-bar shuffles filled with crying guitar solos or wailing harmonicas. Instead, they're filled with beds of delicately woven African percussion, plucked guitar figures that take on an almost trancelike quality, and the occasional plaintive violin or balafon. But when Traore raises his heartbroken voice on the moving homage to his late wife and their children, "Les Enfants De Pierrette," it's almost as if he's channeling the same spirits Robert Johnson did all those years ago. Indeed, on tunes like the beautiful, Spanish-tinged ballad "Courir Un Homme Qui Vous Aime" and on the stark title track, where Traore's voice is accompanied only by his own guitar and Keletigui Diabate's violin, it's hard to call this anything but the blues.

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Ezra Gale

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