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Toba Seydou Traore - Toba Seydou Traore

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Artist: Toba Seydou Traore

Album: Toba Seydou Traore

Label: Yaala Yaala

Review date: Aug. 4, 2010

The hunter’s music and dance of southwest Mali includes a vivid vocal and instrumental tradition that carries the practical and philosophical lessons of an ancient way of life. Celebrating courage, traditional wisdom and connections with the landscape and its plant and animal life, singers in the tradition unleash their powerful and elastic songs over the steady-pulsing patterns of the throbbing hunter’s harp, iron scraper and rattle.

Toba Seydou Traore’s biography echoes an origin myth that shows up a lot in West African music: that of the outsider who falls in love with a music that is forbidden to his or her station in life, then suffers familial opposition — even beatings — in the quest to follow musical destiny. Toba Seydou Traore was persistent in his desires, and ultimately found his life-teacher in master musician Yoro Sidibe.

Strength, self-control and the ability to access and impart wisdom and knowledge are crucial skills to a Malian hunter; and, it would seem, crucial to the singer of hunter’s music also. Seydou is utterly commanding as his voice flows and rushes like the changing waters of a stream; sometimes clear and measured, at others strong and almost overwhelming as it rises. And the stream of song carries important messages: ‘Weleni” chronicles the healing powers of blacksmith elders (the blacksmiths are crucial, as they are the ones who forge and repair the hunters’ weapons) to combat evil sorcery; “Maransa” celebrates and honors the strength and achievement of those who successfully kill large and dangerous beasts.

Throughout the album, Seydou’s voice ripples and surges in motion with vocal choruses, the strings and rattling metals of the hunter’s harp, and the metronomy of scraper and rattle. Constantly imparted in an un-hurried and insistent way, there is a power in this music that might well find a way deep inside the listener.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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