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In concert: Rokia Traore at Lisner Auditorium

rokia traoreRokia Traore has successfully embraced rock-and-roll, as evidenced by her Sunday show at Lisner. (All photos by Kyle Gustafson/FTWP)

By Mark Jenkins

In her Washington debut eight years ago, Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traore gently picked an acoustic guitar, accompanied by delicate harmonies and traditional chiming African timbres. Traore’s concert Sunday at Lisner Auditorium was a rowdier affair. She played mostly electric guitar, backed by a quintet that was essentially a rock band. Both Traore and her songs adapted well to the change.

(A sprawling, sensational jam, plus more pictures after the jump.)

rokia traore

There are hints of the new direction on Traore’s latest album, 2009’s stunning “Tchamantche.” Although its mood is tranquil, the album shows the musician’s new enthusiasm for her Gretsch, one of two electric guitars she played Sunday. The guitar’s twang was matched to Traore’s own piercing trills, and also to the sharp tone of an n’goni, a sort of lute that was the only African instrument on stage.

But Traore went beyond “Tchamantche’s” blues and rock experiments, intensifying such songs as “Tounka.” Its plea for Africans not to undertake the perilous migration to Europe, prettily cajoling in its recorded version, became insistent in concert.

Traore’s band had only one percussionist, which is rare in Afropop. Sometimes the rhythms were flat, and the group sounded like a rather ordinary ’70s-style jazz-rock outfit. But that rarely happened, since Traore galvanized the music, whether she was singing, playing guitar or dancing — or all three, as during the sprawling first encore. The 25-minute medley/jam even incorporated Fela Kuti’s “African Woman,” as if to say that Traore has vaulted into the realm of African music’s giants. It’s a claim that Sunday’s performance justified.

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By David Malitz  |  April 12, 2010; 2:30 PM ET
Categories:  In concert  | Tags: Rokia Traore  
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