Still smooth: Boubacar Traore

Still smooth: Boubacar Traore

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

BOUBACAR TRAORE

Clarendon Guesthouse, November 20

No musicology degree is needed to hear the binding ties between the Malian roots of Boubacar Traore's self-penned songs and the rural blues of the Mississippi sung by freed west African slaves.

Traore sings (in French) and plays that workhorse of the blues, the acoustic guitar. Cleaving Mali and Mississippi even closer was Frenchman Vincent Bucher's harmonica.

This was Traore's first Australian tour in a stop-start career that stretches back to the early 1960s, when his voice and songs were the soundtrack to Mali's independence struggle from France. Much water and less savoury matter has passed under the bridge since that time, both for Mali and Traore, but he is now once more established as a (reticent) star of West African music.

He concentrated on songs from his recent Mali Denhou CD, which also features the brilliant Bucher. Percussionist Lassine Kone, another Malian, who played sparse, relentless grooves on the calabash made up the trio.

Traore's voice was a cruising, unassuming blend of warmth, sadness and stoicism. When he sang out suddenly, the drama and intensity seem to surge up from nowhere. Then his wailing chiselled the air, while his guitar playing was all supple riffs and slippery licks, like blues that has had the shuffle rhythm and chord movement smoothed out of it.

The gentle tension that he and Kone built up with their insistent grooves was released by Bucher's harmonica solos. These could be blistering and fiercely primal amid a welter of virtuosity that mark Bucher as a player with few peers.

For the encore, the traditional Minuit, Bucher and Kone joined to sing the refrain, and perhaps their voices could have more often expanded the narrow textural range. Yet to imply the music was samey is to miss the nuances and the importance of repetition in building to those singular harmonica explosions.

This remarkably potent acoustic trio would be equally convincing whether busking or in a concert hall.