Khaira Arby’s Timbuktu Tarab Reinvents Desert Blues
Khaira Arby is sort of the Aretha Franklin of Mali and what’s more, she’s got an amazing band. They’re playing Joe’s Pub on 9/29 at 7 and if her new album Timbuktu Tarab is any indication, the show should be pretty intense. A cousin of desert blues legend Ali Farka Toure, Arby sings in four indigenous dialects with a fearless, raspy wail, unafraid to buck convention and challenge traditional Muslim social order (one can only wonder if she’d get away with this if she wasn’t related to Malian duskcore nobility ). Her band is just as intense. The dual guitars of Abdramane Touré and M’Barka Dembelé blend hypnotically with a wild eclecticism that ranges from snaky desert blues to oldschool American soul, sixties psychedelic rock and even tinges of country music, further enhanced by Ebellaou Yattara’s spiky ngoni lute, the screechy fiddle of Zoumane Tekereta and an exuberant harmony vocal duo.
The album opens on a pretty standard desert blues note but hints at the stunning originality that will come soon after, the band stopping cold and letting Arby wail until the central riff kicks in again. The second cut, simply titled Khaira, spins along on a hypnotic web of interlocking guitar lines, intricate, lightning hammer-ons over a growling, distorted, percussive attack. The methodically hypnotic Djaba, a tribute to a legendary warrior, bounces with swirling flute-like fiddle and more interlocking guitars.
A shout-out to a friend, Dja Cheikna has the backup vocals going full tilt, a dazzling guitar solo and stomping twin-guitar outro. The unapologetic feminist anthem Wayidou has tinges of ornate 70s art-rock; a blistering attack on female genital mutilation, Feryene begins with a haunting psychedelic rock intro straight out of the Pretty Things circa 1967, then winds down into otherworldly duskcore, overtones flying like little banshees from the off-center interplay of the guitars. And the band pull out all the stops on Delya, a showstopper and a genuine high point in the history of desert blues, mixing psychedelic rock, art-rock, Afrobeat and desert blues and a passionate performance from the backup choir. There are also a couple of vividly soul-influenced numbers, one with some unexpected, bucolic American C&W tinges; the last cut on the album is a cross between late 60s psychedelic soul music and desert blues. It’s hard to imagine a more original album in any style of music released this year: you’ll see this on our best of 2010 list in December.
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