Rokia Traoré states that the music on her latest album, Beautiful Africa, is African ‘because music depends on the person making it, and I am an African. But I’m from a new generation, with a new way of seeing Africa and our music.’ Nonetheless, with its blues guitar and rock influences, it defies the conventions of traditional Malian music, reflecting Traoré’s varied and diasporic past.
Born in Kolokani, Mali, in 1974, Rokia Traoré’s family is part of Mali’s Bambara tribe. Her father was a diplomat, posted in Brussels for much of Rokia’s childhood; his international career saw her visiting a number of different countries, from France and Belgium, to the USA and Algeria.
Whilst studying in Brussels, Traoré performed in a rap band. It is unusual for members of the Bambara tribe to perform music publicly, so Traoré’s move was a bold decision, yet she was still dissatisfied. Her travels exposed her to a number of different musical styles and influences, and she sought to create an entirely new sound that drew influences both from her roots in Mali and the various musical motifs of the countries in which she had visited and lived. Above all, she hoped to create a contemporary sound whilst still using traditional Mali instruments. Thus she moved back to her home country and tried to source musicians who would be interested in combining the sounds of the the n’goni, the balaphone and her own acoustic guitar.
Yet her breakthrough happened not in her native land, but in France. In 1997, Traoré played the Angouleme Festival; subsequently, Radio France Internationale hailed her as the ‘African Discovery of 1997’. Since then, her career has continued to grow, with the regular release of albums that have steadily built her reputation as a creator and proponent of an entirely new style. In recent years, her success has rapidly snowballed, starting perhaps with her collaboration with the director Peter Sellars in 2006. The New Crowned Hope Festival, held in Vienna, was a celebration of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. Performing with the Klangforum Wien, Traoré reimagined the musical legend as a griot in the Mali Empire of the thirteenth century. The ambitious project, a resounding success, included instruments from the traditional West African to the violin, to the guitar and bass. She then subsequently collaborated with Toni Morrison and Sellars on the theatre piece Desdemona, a reinterpretation of the Shakespeare heroine through the prism of African culture, in which the singer herself acted. It premiered in Vienna in 2011, then moved to New York and subsequently London’s Barbican in 2012.
Destinations Unlocked:Let our travel expert Stefano help you find your perfect Culture trip
Looking for an expert's perspective?Uncover my top 3 recommended places from each continent on the map.
1. GuatemalaAn express adventure for those with limited time off. Prepare yourself incredible experiences. You will hike a volcano, visit mayan temples and witness a ceremony and take in beautiful colonial Antigua.
2. BelizeA quick trip not too far away for those seeking a relaxing mini break. You will have plenty of free time to relax but also some awesome activities to experience the rainforest and the caribbean sea.
3. MexicoAn exciting mini trip exploring the lesser known colonial towns of central Mexico. This is hte perfect trip for someone with limited time off and still wants to turn on explorer mode and do something different.
1. EcuadorA remarkable 8 days adventure through the Andes and the Amazon rainforest. The best choice for adventure seekers wishing to visit the 2 most iconic areas of South America, in only 1 week and no flights.
2. PeruAn alternative itinerary to classic Peru, from Cusco to Arequipa. This itinerary is great combination of highlights Cusco and Machu Picchu with the lesser known Arequipa and Colca Canyon.
1. ItalyThe ultimate Italian experience from the vibrant streets of Naples to the breathtaking sceneries of the Amalfi Coast followed by Matera and down to Puglia with its golden beaches, intense flavours and fascinating destinations.
2. ScotlandEmbark on this great adventure starting from London all the way to Scotland with a true Scottish experience made of breathtaking sceneries, whisky tasting and ..lots of fun! Ideal for train lovers and explorers.
3. PortugalA wonderful train journey around Portugal, from the romantic city of Porto to the Douro Valley, to the beautiful Aveiro all the way to Lisbon and Sintra. The perfect trip to train, culinary and culture lovers.
1. South KoreaDiscover incredible temples, mountains and modern cities on this 10 day adventure. This trip is perfect for those seeking immersion in the cuisine, culture and natural wonders of South Korea.
2. ThailandFrom Bankgok to Angkor Wat to Ho Chi Minh City and everything in between - adventure through the heart of South-East Asia. Taste the delights, see history brought to life and unwind on a Mekong River cruise.
3. Sri LankaA fantastic adventure that showcases Sri Lanka's fantastic landscapes, wildlife and flavours. With 3 epic rail journeys, 3 UNESCO heritage sites and time to relax, this trip has loads to offer at a great price
1. MoroccoAn epic journey across Morocco: from Casablanca to Marrakech, through the blue city of Chefchaouen to the wonders of the desert and deep to the High Atlas Mountains - this trip has it all! Ideal for true explorers!
2. EgyptFrom Cairo to Aswan, this trip brings the land of the pharaohs to life. You'll visit the Pyramids, Valley of the Kings and Luxor Temple and cruise down the Nile in style. This is the perfect way to explore Egypt.
After this venture into acting, the singer returned to the recording studio, and the latest album, titled Beautiful Africa, is something of a stylistic departure for the innovative artist. While she had explored the use of the Gretsch guitar in her 2008 album Tchamantché, her fascination with this renowned instrument culminates in this, her latest output. Gretsch guitars became popular in 1950s and 1960s music culture; Chet Atkins, Eddie Cochran and George Harrison were just some of the many legendary performers of the time who used the brand. Its lilting, rockabilly sound is what underpins the entire album, and it is remarkable how seamlessly the rock and blues riffs integrate in order shape each track. Traoré sings in a blend of Bambara, French and English, slipping between languages often in the same song; the title track of the album in fact takes in all three, yet her mastery and control of voice never allows these transitions to become jarring or obvious. This song, as the press release states, is ‘a love song to “battered, wounded Africa,” and reflects Traoré’s despair and fury at what has happened to her country’, yet her melodic tones steer the tune clearly away from becoming purely overt political dogma. It is still engaging to listen to her music, even if the listener does not understand French, Bambara, or English. Here, perhaps, is where the advantages of employing a blend of languages comes to the fore, as her voice becomes as much an instrument as a means of communication.
Traoré rigorously states that her music is African, citing the fact of her nationality as justification. That she has to defend such a claim so vigorously perhaps reflects the somewhat dated attitudes of what is considered ‘African’ or ‘Global’ music. Still using traditional instruments, but producing something entirely new, Traoré demonstrates that, just as with any other musical culture, African music need not statically stay within its conventions. Building upon the foundations of what has come before, the music of Mali has the potential to be radically different, and Rokia Traoré is leading the charge.
by Rebecca Jagoe
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.