Over the past half-century, West Africa has yielded an incredibly rich crop of musicians who have merged the indigenous music of the Griot tradition with rock, blues, and R&B, including Femi and Seun Kuti (sons of Fela), Salif Keita, Vieux Farka Touré, and, of course, Youssou N'Dour, who recently appeared as part of the ongoing Nonesuch at BAM festival.
Add to that list Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré, who appeared at the Howard Gilman Opera House Wednesday night with her band for a two-hour set. Traoré, 40, had a serene, almost regal bearing, her hair cropped in an anrogynous buzzcut. Her voice wasn't particularly beautiful, but it did penetrate the haze of psychedelic cowboy electric guitars and lute-like Ngoni.
Traoré sang in three languages: her native French and Bambara, as well as English. When she wasn't accompanying herself on guitar, she danced around the stage in a Dervish-like trance, flowing along with the loungey groove. Most of the crowd stayed seated for the performance, save for one inspired audience member who approached the stage during "Mélancolie" (from Traoré's 2013 release Beautiful Africa) to do a traditional African dance while Traoré accompanied her in a seemingly endless torrent of lyrics. It was rapturous, transporting.