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Timbuktu Tarab by Khaira Arby. CD Review.

25 September 2010 25 September 2010 Tags: No Comment Print This Post Print This Post

The latest ceedee by Khaira Arby [Timbuktu Tarab] is on the market. Finally! Arby and her group have been touring America for at least a month with many gigs behind them and no ceedee to sell to her legion of new fans. Of course, Arby is not new to me, to wit, I own Mali only releases of her music on K7.

To some American reviewers, she’s yet another singer from the exotic, dark continent who they just can not let be herself. One of them called her, “The Aretha Franklin of Mali” whose ceedee “reinvents desert blues”. What a jackass! Lets compare, shall we? Franklin is dangerously overweight. Arby is not. Franklin’s voice is a shadow of its former self. Arby’s is in its prime. Franklin’s current musical output is basically irrelevant to the public. Many young people only know her song “RESPECT” which was released more than five decades ago. Arby is an icon in contemporary, Sonrhai culture. Her music is popular and her inspirational lyrics imbue her fans with confidence, pride and hope. So no. Arby is definitely NOT Franklin. Kaira Arby is the Kaira Arby of Mali.

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I would rejoice the day when reviewers stop using such inane similes in their ignorant writings. White supremacy is a powerful opiate though. And as I have said before, if a Martian comes to earth and plays his music, ignorant reviewers will write about it as if they are experts. By the way, does “desert blues” mean the art form that African-American invented, as played in the Gobi, the Kalahari & the Mojave? Just asking.

And when will Putumayo come out with their highly anticipated “Music from the Desert Lands’ compilation? But I digress.

Anyway, the first thing one notices on “Timbuktu Tarab” is that the energy level of her live show can not be totally replicated on a studio album. That’s to be expected. Some day, she will record a great live album. “Timbuktu Tarab” dovetails very seamlessly from where “Ya Rassoul”, her previous album, ended.

The mix of traditional African [n'goni, sokou, calabash] and American [batterie, electric guitars] musical instruments are still her standard. The addition of electric guitars [three of them] seem to be a calculated move to appeal to white rock fans. No shame in aiming to get a share of the Tinariwen audience.

And, while Vieux Farka Toure’s band is replete with testosterone and, he has a weak voice, Kaira and her backing vocalist [Inna Diarra] add feminine allure to the presentation, and of course, Kaira possesses a powerful, keening, soprano. She can huff and puff and blow your lobes out. But she doesn’t always belt. She can finesse too. Just listen to how she caresses and massages the words at the end of the eponymous track “Khaira”.

One noticeable characteristic of the song architecture is double movement. Check out “Goumou” and “Delya”. Very attractive. After one listen, the novice will be anticipating the excitement of the faster, irresistibly danceable second movement. The reggae lilt on the last minute or so on “Tijani Ascofare” is a nice touch that lifts the melody out of the doldrums.

By and large, the music on “Timbuktu Tarab” is straightforward in that there are no interesting compositional sonic surprises. In the hands of Cheikh Tidiane Seck, the introductions would have been more developed, more stylised.

The rock guitars do overshadow the spine-tingling n’goni of Elbellaou Yattara and I would be happier had the compositions included more sokou sawing by Zoumana Téréta [known all his life by that name but re-baptised on the credits as Zoumane Tereketa]. But don’t let these minor distractions prevent you from buying this ceedee NOW and supporting this great artist.

Akenaata Hammagaadji is an African music expert and cultural critic. He is the radio host of First World Music, an African music programme broadcast from WVKR. His insightful music reviews, which goes beyond music into cultural dissections, can be found in his weekly First World Music Newsletter, now a blog on afrobeatradio.net

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