Words by Kevin Bourke
With a Songlines cover and an ecstatically reviewed new album, Rokia Traoré is riding high. On the evidence of this exhilarating live show, her current UK tour, which is destined to reach many thousands at this year’s Glastonbury (June 26-30), only confirms her position as one of the world’s most consistently exciting singers and performers.
The revered Manchester venue Band on the Wall, is at its best when the music gets sweaty and intimate. Fortuitously, those are two adjectives that spring readily to mind about this particular show – as well as humble, sweet, sassy and, whisper who dare, rocking.
That last may not come as much of a surprise to fans of the John Parish-produced Beautiful Africa, who came fully prepared to groove and move to some sinuous riffing from the perma-grinning female bass-player and a white guitarist apparently as enamoured with Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour as the desert blues. Drummer Seb Rochford was imperturbable as Rokia’s vocals swooped, soared and glided through some of the many moods of Beautiful Africa, from the impassioned title-track to the slinky soukous-style ‘Tuit Tuit’ and the riff-tastic ‘Kouma’. Ngoni player Mamah Diabaté infused the proceedings with an agile musical wit and backing singers Fatim Kouyaté and Bintou Soumbounou, albeit a bit underused on this night for my tastes, provided an invaluable foil for Rokia’s mercurial voice.
The great Malian singer has always been something of a shape-shifter, and this current manifestation is one of her most intriguing.