Before his death two years ago of heart failure at age 49, the Malian singer and electric guitarist Lobi Traore released a series of albums that captured his mesmerizing improvisational blues in the studio. But it’s only with the appearance of “Bwati Kono, Vol. 1,” a compilation of six polyrhythmic performances recorded at club shows in Mali’s capital city of Bamako, that evidence of his incendiary playing is available to those who never witnessed it firsthand.
Allusions to Jimi Hendrix, though understandable, are ultimately too facile to do justice to his dirty-toned modal approach, even when he creates “Voodoo Chile”-style magic on tracks such as “Jama” and “Banan Ni.” Traore’s playing is more atavistic, after the fashion of the droning stomps of John Lee Hooker, and skronkier, a la Sonny Sharrock’s early ’70s work with Miles Davis, than Hendrix’s. His music is also, as one might expect, more African, as heard in the more lyrical likes of “Saya” and “Mali Ba,” included here.
Singing in the Bambara dialect, Traore might inhabit a lower register than Skip James, but his coarse timbres have much the same keening quality as the great Delta blues singer’s unearthly moan. In the end, though, it’s his guitar playing — slashing, metallic, heavily distorted — that’s the hallmark of his brooding, vamping sound, especially when heard live.
Ever on the verge of catharsis, Traore will finger a note over and over again, never quite resolving the tension, as if afraid to let the frenzied ecstasies he has conjured cease.
“Maya Gasi Ka Bon,” “Saya,” “Banan Ni”