When Malian singer-guitarist Boubacar Traore made his Millennium Stage debut five years ago, he was just restarting his career after years out of the public eye. He performed mostly slow, bluesy songs, interrupted by the occasional number from his 1960s reign as West Africa's Elvis. The same elements were audible Tuesday night, when Traore returned to the venue, but this time they were more tightly integrated. Traore finger-picked sauntering mid-tempo grooves, but also some livelier passages, occasionally including both in a song.
Dressed in a suit and cap that suggested his years in Paris rather than the time spent in his homeland, Traore was a little more outgoing this time around. He's hardly a chatty guy, and when not singing his tendency is to dance backward away from the microphone. But he did smile a few times, and as he warmed up his voice became looser and more expressive, although it seldom rivaled his fluid guitar playing.
Traore's music is similar to Delta blues, with its bent notes and weary rhythms. Yet his guitar sounds brighter and sweeter, with a chiming tone typical of modern African pop. Accompanied by rhythms tapped out on a large calabash, Traore sounded more Mali than Mississippi, if only by a small margin. Whatever the origins of his style, however, the guitarist's most effervescent riffs transcended all boundaries.
-- Mark Jenkins