Rokia Traoré's Commitment To Her Culture

作者:未知 来源:美国国家公共电台 2016-02-14


ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: A state of emergency continues in Mali following a terrorist attack that left 20 people dead in the capital city Bamako.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: To end the occupation of northern Mali by radical Islamist groups...


When we hear about Mali, it's usually about that country's civil war. But the West African nation has long been a shining star of Africa's music and culture. It's where the annual Festival in the Desert once attracted visitors and pop stars from around the globe.


ROKIA TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Rokia Traore is one of Mali's stars. She wrote and rehearsed the music for her new album "Ne So" in Bamako, and then she recorded it in Belgium and in England. She joins us from the studios of the BBC in Berlin. Welcome.

TRAORE: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: Now you've obviously always been a world musician in the most literal sense, living and creating lots of places around the globe. In 2009, you settled for several years in Mali, and you did it when the war was sort of really ramping up. How did that affect the music that you wrote for this recording for "Ne So?"

TRAORE: That simply changes your life, and you're no longer naive in your way of seeing and thinking. Everything changes. And Mali is still what it is. You know, music there is so important, and culture is an important part of our life, of our social life. And in such a situation, I think that culture is even more important.

WERTHEIMER: There are songs on this album in one of the languages of Mali, Bambara, also in English. And then the first track of the album, which we're going to listen to right now, is in French.


TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: (Foreign language spoken), that means you fly, right?


WERTHEIMER: So who is flying here? Tell us about this song.

TRAORE: Once you decided to be happy, once you decided to be serene and see the positive side of life anyhow, you then fly, you know? You just feel good.


TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language).

I didn't want to see just the negative sides of things. There are many good things in my life, in Mali and also abroad, and there are still positive things in Mali for which I want to stay there, for which I want to continue living there and having my projects there.

WERTHEIMER: When you talk about your projects, are you talking about music, touring, records, or are you talking about something else?

TRAORE: Not just music, tourings, records, which is my life since almost 20 years now, actually, one of my biggest frustration is that the best of African culture and arts in general is not for Africans. I would like so much to have in Mali and in Africa places where people can go and have their own culture and appreciate it and know about themself in a certain sense and learn about themself. And so my foundation is to contribute to the existence of this cultural and artistic dynamic in Africa in general.


WERTHEIMER: Let's get back to talking about the new recording that you made. There is a very dark song, which was made famous by Billie Holiday on the album. Let's listen to a bit of your version of "Strange Fruit."


TRAORE: (Singing) Southern trees bare a strange fruit, blood on the leaves and blood at the root, black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze, strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

WERTHEIMER: Now this song, which is about lynching, is so emblematic of a very, very troubled period of American life, of an American racial strife. Why did you decide that you should put it on your album?

TRAORE: Because unfortunately, racism is still one of the problem in the world in general. And it's not always and only about racism, it's not about the color, but it's also between social classes. And I think it's important to remember the darkest parts of our past without feeling guilty or ashamed about it. Just remember that we humans can be so bad, so we have to be careful with ourself.


TRAORE: (Singing) Scent of magnolia, sweet and fresh.

I absolutely love this song. And it's a challenge for me to be able to sing it, but also it has a very deep meaning for me.

WERTHEIMER: Rokia Traore, your album sort of goes from - talks about happiness and about optimism and then this very distressing and disturbing song. I wonder if I could just ask you to choose a song that you think is perhaps emblematic of the kind of future you hope for for Mali.

TRAORE: Oh, "Amour," then, yes, "Amour," which is about love and be happy to be in this life.


TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language).

WERTHEIMER: Rokia Traore, her new album is called "Ne So." She joined us from the studios at the BBC in Berlin. Thank you so much.

TRAORE: Thank you for having me.


TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language).