Malian Boubacar Traoré, otherwise known as Kar Kar, had early experience of pop stardom in the 60s with Kar Kar Madison and Mali Twist. Feted as the African Elvis, his fortunes seemed sure, but fall turned out to be as swift as rise. After his father`s death he returned home to Kayes to support the family, working the land and selling clothes. When his wife died in childbirth he moved to Paris, and worked as a casual labourer. It wasn`t until 1990, aged 48, that Sterns put out the brilliant Mariama album, and he resumed his career (though the sleeve notes of that album referred to him as "now retired"). His songs, just guitar and vocals, struck a powerful chord: a highly personal and refined variant of Malian blues--in fact, a derivative of traditional kassonké music and American blues.
Reminiscent of Skip James, he blended a soft vocal roughness with nimble and generally minimal finger-picked guitar, that suddenly erupted into virtuoso outbursts of complex runs and scales. Absolutely the real thing: anything but glossy and always powerfully emotional. Since then there have been several albums all consistently excellent and varying little in style. But this one is slightly different--the soundtrack to a film by Jacques Sarasin: a journey across Mali with Kar Kar, meeting and playing with such musicians as Ali Farka Touré, kora player Ballaké Cissokho and balafonist Kélétigui Diabaté.
Most of the music is recorded live and unadorned, though one track is a studio job with Rokia Traoré and group. Throughout it`s spellbinding. Kar Kar playing and singing with more ease and élan than ever, a man at the peak of his form. And, so baldly and frankly recorded, we are as close to the music and its maker as any listener could wish. -
This is the soundtrack to the French film about one of the greatest African artists of our times. If you have ever wondered about the origins of the American blues, listen to KarKar, as he is known in Mali. Thematically the songs are extraordinarily intelligent, metaphysical, ontological, existential. One of the things Americans have lost, regardless of their cultural heritage, is the sense of nuance that made a turn of phrase a philosophical and heartbreaking treatise. While US singers, regardless of race, seem to exalt in the bloody obvious, losing any grasp on subtlety, this man virtually oozes the sublime and the sophistication of a life fully informed with tragedy, passion, inspiration and joy. His guitar playing is exquisite, his voice one of a solitary visionary crying out into the wilderness.
This disc has a very ambient feel. There are field recordings made in the villages of Mali, in the streets of Timbuktu, sometimes with legendary colleagues such as Ali Farka Toure, or on stage in concert with his daughter, Rokia Traore. You hear audiences celebrating an icon, you hear children listening in rapture. The wind, the dust, the sounds of Northern Africa blow mystically through this disc. It is a wonder.