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Lobi Traoré
Rainy Season Blues Richie Troughton , September 29th, 2010 12:55

When Malian guitarist Lobi Traoré stepped into a Bamako studio last August to record the tracks on this album he did not know it was to be his final recording session. After four hours work, he took a break for lunch and then left to attend a friend's wedding, where he played a further five hours. Later still, he was at a regular club haunt in town where he played long into the night.

There was no fuss. As a jobbing musician he simply fulfilled his engagements for survival as much as anything else. As he said: "This is the only thing that I do." But on June 1st this year, Traoré's life ended at the age of 49, and a certain poignancy inevitably imbues what became his final statement. Themes of redemption, mortality and peace among men run deep throughout Traoré's lyrics. Lines such as "To every single thing his time," on 'Hiné (The Pity)' or "The life of a man is a brief stay... All which stands up will lie down one of these days," from 'Alah ka bo (God is Great)' are especially moving given his untimely demise.

The sparse recordings were captured entirely in one take, with vocals sung live alongside the lone guitar. No overdubs were necessary, and it makes for a haunting listen as every breath, every loose string pick and every stamped foot rings out as the intricacies of Traoré's accomplished playing come to the fore.

Although the songs on the album average around three and a half minutes they give a glimpse into the extended trance-like explorations Traoré was known for playing live. Repetitive corkscrew patterns weave in and out, the insistent, yet loose, tempos reinforced by fills of improvised phrasing. The voice is always deeply soulful, whether singing, or in spoken passages. The music gradually builds from a distinctly African take on the blues to the final couple of tracks which have a drive reminiscent of Canned Heat, particularly the romp through instrumental track 'A Lamén'.

A snapshot of a morning's work the album may be, but on Rainy Season Blues the soul of a man is captured for posterity with devastating effect. It was by chance that the session even took place at all. American producer Chris Eckman (of the Walkabouts) had been in town to record Tuareg desert rock band Tamikrest. As he hoped to record an album, Traoré had been in email contact with Eckman before his visit, and had supplied him with some recent home demos. Eckman, a fan of Traoré's previous electric output, was taken aback by these acoustic solo pieces, and they set aside a day to record. There had been no prior discussion as to what material, or how much Traoré would aim to record, and he breezed through the 10 numbers here before he had to leave.

But was Traoré a bluesman? The rolling chords may resemble something recognisable as bluesy. John Lee Hooker rock musicians from Cream and Jimi Hendrix to AC/DC were acknowledged influences, so it is interesting to read Traoré's own definition of the music: "I listened to a lot of blues," he said. "Maybe I was inspired by that. Maybe the blues was inspired by Africa. Maybe the resemblance is just a coincidence. But listen, for me the music I play comes from me, from my place. Someone who hears my music and says it's the blues, well, to me blues is American music. We don't even have that word. Each place has its arts. It wasn't me who came up with the idea of Bambara blues. People kept saying, 'Bambara blues, Bambara blues'. In the end I accepted it. But I don't think the blues is our music."

Whatever it is, Traoré was certainly feeling it that drizzly morning within the shelter of the studio. Through this wonderful music, Lobi Traoré lives on and, to paraphrase his lyrics on 'Melodie de Bambara Blues': "Take and taste!"

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