Review: Boubacar Traoré @ Rich Mix (London, 21st May 2015)


Boubacar Traoré, one of the most symbolic voices and guitarists of African blues graced Rich Mix and Serious Space Shoreditch with a remarkable performance. A minimal but revealing gig it was one that only musicians of his calibre could produce.

There wouldn’t be African blues without Malian music, and Boubacar is one of its greatest exponents. Kar Kar, meaning ‘the one who dribbles too much’ (as the musician was known when showing off his skills as young footballer) represents the musical memory of his country. Since Malian independence in the 1960s Traoré has embodied the conscience of that African nation. He has sung and played the music of his land and unveiled its soul to become a mouthpiece for his countrymen.

Nowadays, to attend to one of his gigs is a great honour because as well as being a musical legend Boubacar still gives life to meaningful shows that go right back to the roots of blues. So it was almost with reverence that London recently greeted him on the Rich Mix stage. The Malian musician was indeed one of the highlights of the week-long Serious Space Shoreditch festival, which enriched the already luscious Spring programme of the East London venue.

In addition to his acoustic guitar he was accompanied by an essential line-up of remarkable harmonica played by Vincent Bucher and the percussive talent of Babah Koné on calabash. With cut-to-the-bone effects and arrangements Traoré strengthened his reputation as a leading figure of African blues. After being introduced by the intriguing solo performance and soulful vocal qualities of Joshua KYEOT, Traoré mainly presented songs from his latest work entitled Mbalimaou through an emotional and most intimate gig. Simultaneously, he managed to bring back his recent past by playing tracks from significant albums such as Mali Denhou and Je Chanterai Pour Toi.

Since the moment the trio appeared on stage dressed in characteristic white robes, the musicians demonstrated their sublime and unadulterated technique. Boubacar and his sparring partners easily fascinated the audience from the first chord, and as if they were carrying out an impeccable series of dribbling patterns they hypnotised their fans with their innate virtuosity.

With some effective renditions of the anthem ‘Africa’, the confidential ‘Mariama’ and the lively ‘Khobe Na Touma’ the performance demonstrated the indissoluble link between the Malian and American blues traditions. Indeed it was the instinctive synergy between the unmistakable Northern African accent of Boubacar’s guitar, Boucher’s slippery and swampy harmonica sounds and the visceral rhythmicity of Koné that made the gig a unique musical experience, one which only certain outstanding musicians are able to bring to life.

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