Few artistic careers are at once as free and as rooted in tradition as Rokia Traoré's. Indeed, she has often been called unique, post-traditional, mutant, so easily she seems to find herself at unknown crossroads, at confluences both unpredictable and determined by her personal history. Rokia Traoré's voice is uniquely Malian in its power and tone, folk in its distance and precision, and rock'n'roll in its love for encounters, turbulences, and shock. What left an indelible mark on her? Serge Gainsbourg's Aux armes et cætera, which her father played loudly in the morning, but also an Ella Fitzgerald LP, and albums by Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, Mark Knopfler, and Ali Farka Touré, as well as cassettes she bought from griots later in Bamako, when her friends listened only to rap. If Rokia Traoré is seen as an icon of world music, celebrated for the elegance of a music embodying the culture without borders of a new century, she is also, thanks to her unique career choices—a show written with Toni Morrison and directed by Peter Sellars; her assimilation of the legacy of the griots, even though she isn't part of their caste—the symbol of a changing Mali. At the Festival d'Avignon, she will present a new creation that shows the boldness of her culture and of her career as a singer.
© portrait Danny Willems