Songwriter, Singer and Guitarist. President of the Gateway Foundation and Ambassador for the OPC.
The daughter of a Malian diplomat whose job moved him between the USA, Europe and the Middle East, Rokia Traoré was born in 1974 in the region of Belidougou in Mali, close to the Mauritian border, but moved throughout her childhood as a result of her father’s job.
After finishing her studies in Brussels, she decided to go back to Mali to follow up on her musical ideas – “neither pop, jazz or classical – it was something very contemporary produced through traditional instruments.” A real challenge. She set out therefore looking for musicians who would be able to help bring her resolutely modern compositions for orchestras of acoustic guitars, n’goni and bafalon to life. Success was finally on the cards: she was hailed as the “African discovery of 1997” after her appearance at the Musiques Métisses d’Angoulême. Since then, her popularity has not stopped growing.
But Rokia remains faithful to herself, continuing to create a deeply unique musical world. Rokia Traoré’s aim remains to create authentic and innovative music that does not succumb to mainstream influences. And therein lies the secret of a true singer: to create their own language, a bursting musical idiom that comes from an often mysterious source and touches people’s hearts.
Her third album, “Bowmboi”, which was released in 2003, stood out because of her collaboration with the prestigious Kronos Quartet. In 2005, she was invited to join stars such as Fontella Bass and Dianne Reeves for a US tour of “Billie and Me”, a show devoted to the life of Billie Holiday.
The following year, Rokia was invited by Peter Sellars to write and interpret a new work, “Wati”, for the New Crowned Hope Festival in Vienna to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth. The show was thereafter staged at the Barbican Centre, London and then in Paris’ Salle Pleyel as part of their 07/08 “City of Music” season. In her unique way, Rokia transformed the request into a very personal work, portraying Mozart as a girot (West-African storyteller-musician) and setting the show in the mythical period of the 13th century, when the great chief Soundiata Keita reigned over the Mandinka Empire.
In 2008, Rokia Traoré showed through Tchamantché (a self-labelled “blues and Mandinkan rock” album) the final step forward in her work which had already profoundly changed the way the West saw African music. The album was named World Music Album of the Year at the 2009 Victoires de la Musique award ceremony.
In the same year, she created “Pathways”, a foundation in Bamako, Mali aimed at promoting the professionalization of young people, including singers. At the end of 2010, following the “Tchamantché” tour (which consisted of 200 concerts across Europe and worldwide), Rokia collaborated with Nobel Prize Winner for Literature Toni Morrison and director Peter Sellars on “Desdemona”, a reinterpretation of the story of Desdemona from Shakespeare’s Othello. She wrote the music and performed it in Spring/Autumn 2011 in some of the most prestigious theatres across Europe and America.
Keen to extend the work undertaken on this project with an acoustic group of three musicians and three singers, Rokia gave an exceptional series of concerts (titled “Roots”) which were principally devoted to Malinkan tradition. The reception she was given at each of these concerts was incontestably enthusiastic; the public were very welcoming and it was a sell out.
« Roots » toured again in October 2012, this time alongside a larger repertoire which included music of more varying influences. In June 2012, Rokia presented for “Summer Music 2012” organized by the Barbican Centre in London.
Her fifth studio album, “Beautiful Africa”, was released in April 2013 by Nonesuch Records and was produced by John Parish.