There’s little doubt that Rokia Traoré does not sometimes seem packaged to be one of Mali’s more cultivated and reliable exports. Blessed with a wonderful voice that can be full of lamentation for the forgotten, and then exultation for the living in the very next; it’s clear her cup of talent and appeal still runneth over after nearly 20 years. In her new album, Né So, due to be released in February of this year, she has rediscovered her purpose after witnessing the ravages of war and the refugee crisis. And she’s managed to collect an eclectic mix of guest appearances to help her tell the story from the revered author Toni Morrison to the inscrutable Devendra Banhart, amongst others.
On the title track and lead single, ‘Né So’, the thoughtfully plucked guitar is as expressive as the staccato speech that bursts in and out of the melodic groove. Different faces flash and are briefly illuminated as the track delicately straddles the line between being both poignant and uplifting. The phrases are used powerfully here; repeated regularly and given different weight and meaning each time, but none more powerful than a final resigned uttering of, “tant d’espoir [so much hope],” that truly makes it beautiful.