Friday, June 04, 2010

Passings: Lobi Traoré has died at age 49

From RFI Musique:

Mali is a land of music and tradition. Lobi Traoré was one of those artists who seek to take their culture beyond borders and succeed. The 49-year-old suffered from a fatal heart attack on 2 June. His death is a great loss for Mali and the African continent.

Lobi Traoré was born in 1961 in Bakaridianna, a few kilometres from Ségou on the Niger River. His parents sang in the secret “komo” society, lending an unusual flavour to his early years. His music career really got going at the age of 16 when he went to Ségou and joined a folk band. But the young man had higher ambitions, and the only town likely to be a match for his emerging talent was Bamako.

In the Malian capital, he joined a different folk band and spent three years with them before joining the Djata Band, led by Zani Diabaté. This was one of the greatest Malian bands of the time and one of the first to tour France in the early 1980s. Lobi Traoré became the singer of its Bambara repertoire and was a great success.

With the rich and varied experience he had gleaned (including a short tour in lively Abidjan), he set out on a solo career right at the start of the 90s, performing at weddings and in bars. His use of traditional instruments like the kora, djembé and ngoni as well as the electric guitar earned him a following in Bamako. It was in the Bozo, a now defunct bar, that he swung his Bambara blues. The venue was constantly packed.

The next logical step was to record an album. His first was called Bambara Blues and came out in 1991. Several others followed, including Bamako (under Ali Farka Touré’s artistic direction), Duga (featuring his favourite partner, the harmonica player, Vincent Bucher), The Lobi Traoré group and more, up until his last offering, I Yougoba, recorded with the Dutch bluesman Joep Pelt. He toured extensively around the world, and was a regular participant at French music festivals like Africolor, making him a true ambassador of Malian music.

This affable, cheerful and gentle man chose to sing about respecting others and yourself, about harmony, wisdom and peace. There is no doubt that his audience loved the skillful mix of energy and sadness that came across in his Bambara blues. A sadness that today grips tight round the hearts of music lovers everywhere.