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

Album of the Day 1/20/11

Hee hee, didn’t think we’d get one of these up tonight, did you? Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s is #740:

Khaira Arby – Timbuktu Tarab

A cousin of Ali Farka Toure, Arby is sort of the Aretha Franklin of Mali. This 2010 album blends desert blues with elements of 60s American soul, psychedelic rock and even echoes of country music. Her two-guitar band here, playing through all kinds of vintage effects, is augmented by ngoni lute and screechy ritti fiddle, adding extra layers of spikiness to the hypnotically rambling, careening songs. Arby sings in four dialects, railing against offenses against women, her rasp soaring over the maelstrom. Some of the songs update folk themes – a tribute to a legendary warrior, for example – while others tackle contemporary topics, including a blistering broadside against female genital mutilation. Garage rock riffs give way to patiently circling Malian themes, the guitars sometimes playing off each other, sometimes intermingling to the point that it’s impossible to tell who’s playing what. File this under psychedelia – it’s a throwback to the golden age of the 60s, in spirit and in style. Here’s a random torrent.

January 21, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment