Singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré on why you can’t take music away from the people of Mali

BY Victoria Fleischer  December 27, 2013 at 4:28 PM EST


Listen to Traoré play “Sikey.”

Born in Mali to a diplomatic family, Traoré has traveled throughout the world, picking up pieces of herself along the way.

That mix of origins is reflected in her music, which combines African and Western musical styles and languages, creating what she calls, “Malian contemporary music — a mix of a profound Malian culture in which my music and my personality is rooted and also opened to all my influences I had during my travels when I was a child.”

Her new album, “Beautiful Africa,” is an ode to her home continent, but its more than just that.

“Singing about Africa is like singing about myself … it’s like singing about my story,” she said

Traoré was living in Mali during much of the recent troubles, including the Islamic insurgency that, among other things, banned music in the north. But it didn’t stop her from making music and telling her story.

The ballad “Sarama,” partially sung in English, is a tribute to the women in Africa.

“I am amazed by the way they are and the way they face their everyday [lives]. They don’t see themselves as victims. An African woman or a Malian woman or in my village will never complain about her everyday life. She smiles and its just her life and I admire this fact and its a source of inspiration for me, really. ”


Listen to Traoré play “Sarama.”

The ban on music in Northern Mali, which has since ended, led only to more music, according to Traoré.

“Music is what you think and what you feel in your deep inside…you cannot stop that in a whole country or in a country like Mali.”

Watch chief arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s conversation with Rokia Traoré on the broadcast of the PBS NewsHour.