Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Malian Desert Blues Icon Khaira Arby Brings Good Times and Intensity to the Bell House Tonight

Khaira Arby brings her hypnotic, psychedelic blend of desert blues, rock and soul to the Bell House tonight in the midst of a tour that’ll take the iconic Malian singer across the country in the next week, culminating in an appearance at South by Southwest. For a woman who defied the odds and achieved stardom at a time when women needed their husbands’ permission to sing in public, her career is pretty extraordinary. Having the famed Ali Farka Toure, commonly known as the father of desert blues, marry into her family eased the way; in the time since, with her insistent, defiant, otherworldly wail, she’s become sort of the Aretha Franklin of Mali. Her Bell House show is actually the second Brooklyn appearance of her career: for the lucky few who knew about it, she played a free concert at Zebulon last fall. This time out she’ll be sharing the stage with opening act Sway Machinery, with whom she collaborated on the new album The House of Friendly Ghosts, Vol. 1 and then playing a full set with her band.

Arby’s been a potent force for women’s rights, bucking tradition and winning an impressive amount of converts along the way. Her latest album Timbuktu Tarab – whose title is a pun referring to a part of Mali as well as the Arabic “tarab,” meaning “joy” – fearlessly stands up for women asserting their right to self-determination, most notably on the psychedelic rock-tinged anthem Feryene, a blistering attack on the practice of female genital mutilation. Yet as intensely charismatic as she can be, she explains that it’s humor that bonds her with western audiences who don’t understand a single word of the four languages she sings in (Arabic, Tamashek, Bambara and Sonrahi): she and the crowd find a universality in the slinky groove and call-and-response of her hypnotic, undulating songs.

Offstage, Arby is anything but a diva. A versatile songwriter as talented as any other artist to come out of Mali (a small nation which has become to this era what Jamaica was in the 1970s), she brings her songs to her band pretty much ready go to: she gives her band liberty to do their own arrangements. Likewise, her role on the Sway Machinery album was as much as a composer as singer: the composite of the Brooklyn rock band and her own group ended up doing three of her songs, along with others where she was invited to add her own vocals and arrangements. A singer since she was able to raise her voice, she is also an accomplished violinist. Although her most recent material displays a vivid psychedelic rock influence (the Pretty Things and other British psychedelic bands of the 1960s come to mind), rock is a relatively new thing for her (Hendrix is a favorite). And while like everyone else on the planet, she’s been avidly watching recent events in North Africa as revolution and the hope for democracy have swept the region, she keeps her music separate from politics: a crusader for peace and author of numerous antiwar songs, she remains an optimist, she reminds, as she’s been for decades. Songs about peace have rarely been as vigorous and exciting as Khaira Arby’s – this is a concert not to miss.

For those out of town, the rest of the tour schedule is:

3/8 El Rey Theatre, Los Angeles
3/9 Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
3/12 Aladdin Theatre, Portland, OR
3/13 The Crocodile, Seattle, WA
3/15 Hi Dive, Denver, Co
3/17 SXSW Festival, Austin, TX
3/19 SXSW

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March 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment