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Rokia Traoré

The Bamanang song

The 17 2nd festival of Amiens and jazz musics besides opened, June 3, 1998, by the concert of Rokia Traoré. Rokia Traoré is the girl Malian twenty-four year old who sings with such a virtuosity that one would believe it downward of griots. Rokia Traoré speaks about traditional Africa with intonations which would however give complexes to all its congeneric much less at ease that it even in the modern world. Rokia Traoré received us between his balance and the opening of the festival, to inflict to us a lesson of serenity, rare for its age and which she says duty... to ancestral wisdom. It, the girl who traverses the world since her infancy.

Who is Rokia Traoré?

I am Rokia Traoré. I come from Mali, of the West of Africa. I am Bamanang and I sing in Bamanang. In Mali, there are Malinké which are of an ethnos group and Bamanang which are of another. Salif Keita for example comes from Mandé. There also was the kingdom Bamanang de Ségou. I am, rnoi, Bamanang of Bélédougou. There is a light difference of accent between the two but it is about the same thing. I started to sing for a very long time. The first time that I sang, I remember, was at the time of sets of small girls. Really threw very small. These was my own songs, that I did not compose, for lack of means at the time of taking musicians to put in music what I wrote. I belonged to a group of rap while waiting. I was the singer of the group. After having known a little people of the medium, I made songs for television Malian and it left this time.

What represents the music for you?

I believe that it is a passion, because it could not be of it differently. Traditionally, when one speaks artists or singers about Mali, it is either of the griots, or of the singers of Wassoudou. In Wassoudou, the singers are not griots and sang after harvests, the end of the wintering. They are populations, ethnos groups which like to make music. Or then they are people who grew in the peripheral districts and then formed part of theatre companies, or which made very young choruses of artists. I did not pass at all by there, at all. My course is particular.

One smells well qu ' it is particular when it is learned that you played of the rap whereas your music is so traditional today...

I made rap because the rap does not displease to me, and, as long as it is not overloaded, I like the acoustic instruments, whether they are instruments of Mali or besides. Moreover the rap is a fashion of my generation. Ca made connected to make rap, to dance the rap, and especially it was the only occasion for me to meet a public. Some share thus had well to be begun.

Put aside the rap, that did you make of other?

I did not do many of other things, I made only songs when I had the occasion of it because I went to the school at the same time. I could not thus become professional chorus-singer. H was necessary to pay attention because I was not sure at the time becoming professional singer. I could not give up my studies to launch me in the music. It is not even a question of not having known if I would become singer, makes some I like to learn. Today still I like to learn and I did not want to give up my studies. Ïl was necessary thus that I make the music beside my studies. I also made animation out of radio, which is close to the music in the sense that one can communicate with a public which is connected on the antenna; I also carried out a little animation to television, as well as advertising songs. Each time I had the occasion to do something in the field of arts which did not disturb my courses, I did it.

How the young Malian of the rap generation is at this point impregnated of the traditional musics? Is this the context Malian which allows it or was this a more personal call?

It is not at all due to the context Malian because the girls of my age do not listen to much the traditional music. In Mali it is either the current music of the griottes, or the Western music. The fever Techno Dance strikes everywhere, in Africa too. My knowledge of the traditional musics is due, I believe, with the fact that I entirely did not grow in Mali. Because when one is out of his country and that one holds with his culture, one ends up being more impregnated for it than those which live with the country. They, do not give enough value to this culture, I believe. In fact, they are inside tous.les.jours and there are many things which they take for futile, that one takes for very significant when one is abroad. That made that I find myself finally with an education plus Malian that those which grew in Mali. I find myself knowing to include/understand and speak Bamanang better than those which live in Mali. I find myself knowing the habits of my ethnos group better than my cousins remained all the time with the country. Me I put questions because at the school when my mistress told me a thing, knowing that I was not French, not Belgian bus at the time we were in Belgium I wanted to know how that occurred at home. That made finally that I am more impregnated of my tradition than those of my age which grew in Mali. Ca makes that I listened to this old music of Mali which the young Malians did not listen to, listening to only what one brought from Europe. I remember that on holiday in Mali at the time, I adored Tasédoni which is a very famous song of Super Biton, a famous orchestra of Mali, which was not any more à.la.mode (they was the years 1984), but was it at the time of my father which me made it listen, my girlfriends Malians did not know the aforementioned song. They knew Thriller, all this album of Michael Jackson of the songs of Disco music very à.la.mode also at the time, but not much of all that I knew. I nourished myself of all that. Here in Europe, the variety did not interest me, which interested me, it was of course Michael Jackson - it is the fashion, as for the rap, it is necessary well that I live my time - but what returns really nutcase to me, who gives me really desire for singing, it is the Blues, Jazz when Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald sing: it is the classical music, but not the variety. I listen to even also the variety, that allows me of me défouler, but it is only by mode. It is as that which I found myself to do of the music with traditional instruments of Mali.Je did not completely grow in Mali but remained in contacct with my culture.

Which are these countries in which you grew?

It was in Belgium, in Saudi Arabia, then in Algeria and still in Belgium. My father was a diplomat. With a certain age I was irritated against the girlfriends who said to me while believing to give pleasure which I was not even Malian, because it is well in Mali to be called assimilated, it be-with - to say when one lets pretence not know to speak Bamanang or another language Malian. I answered them that I include/understand Bamanang better than they, than I know many things better than they because what attracts them is what they saw with television whereas me I actually saw it. I said them that I had seen what they saw with the television, which is very beautiful, beside what is not as beautiful as that and does not pass at all to television. Generally in films they are the beautiful places of New- York or of France which one takes, these are the beautiful clothes that one shows, at side one does not show these mow of people without shelter who beg in the streets... One does not show what goes badly in these countries as well as on our premises to Africa. Consequently, one thinks that it is the paradise, that all that comes from over there is well, without understanding none. That irritated me quite simply, whereas they did not even do it purposely.

With all this, how was the exit of tone first album, which is very "roots", to use a à.la.mode term, received in Mali?

That did nothing but reinforce this speech that me am often held: "to You be bourrrée contradictions". Ca surprised people whereas in my head it does not do without contrarieties at all, it does not have there a constraint. It is clear in my head: I was abroad, I saw a number of things, it there is well. With me to know to take what interests me, to make a good use of it. I could be at ease and flère to have seen other countries while knowing my culture well, as I could have been complexed with the idea that not having grown at home, I did not know my culture, that depends. It is thus with me to make good use of it.

What do you believe that the Bamanang culture brought to you of private individual?

The Bamanang culture brought to me much: a personality. A manner of being, a manner of making, a manner of thinking, it is all that a culture. In a culture like that of Bamanang, lout this master key around the personality: can lead to you, would be proud, never make certain things, have the minimun pride... It is all that. A whole manner of being. My culture brought a whole manner to me of being which I did not receive in Europe. With a African father and a mother, one grows in vain here, the African culture remains at the house and it is only at the school that one learns from the things on the foreigner. All that I learned makes it possible me to compare, to include/understand why such thing does without such way to Europe and in the same circumstances why that occurs differently to Africa. It is my stay abroad which offered these comparative data to me, but in addition, my manner of being was learned to me by the Bamanang culture.

What tells your songs?

My songs speak about the life. There is Finini which is my second composition. Finini means the small handkerchief. "Take the small piece of fabric, essuie your tears, because the tears are not used for large thing". It was at one time to which the medium of the artists frightened me a little, when I read things which I would not like that one tells on my subject, I wondered whether I would become artist. And yet I deeply wanted to sing. I thought that it was not the sorrow to think of it, because I never went in a school of music and am not griotte, that it is not because I spend my days to be sung that I would have a beautiful voice, that I would sing in the range, would not make a false note... I thought that it would be impossible. I even cried about it. I finally determined myself to try the blow, saying to me that if I failed, there would remain to me the audacity to have tenté.Voilà all about which Finini speaks.

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When one accepts the success in the life, it is necessary to know to accept the failure. I believe for example that I owe this manner of being with the Bamanang culture. Each song has its history. Mounaïssa, the title of my album, came to me from the last time that my father was named in Belgium and was to leave me in Mali for my Baccalaureat. It is the first time that I actually left it. It is necessary to be alone to learn how to be alone. Ca made me very funny be so free very of a blow because I remained in the parents of my best girlfriend who were so nice with me than they passed all to me. I could leave to my own way, to do what I wanted, but I passed my Baccalaureat there this year and it was with me to try to have it or to have it at all. I was delivered to myself. My mother had never missed me as much. It was incredible, I would never have believed that I would have of it enough to be free at this point. It is easier to make take by his parents the responsibility for all than one makes, and it is not easy to be assumed, especially when that arrives suddenly. Then a day, in the twilight the moment during which it is usually the war with my mother because it is the moment of the day during which the woman must be at the house at Bamanang- it seemed to me that nobody made me any reproach as my mother of made me when I left at this time there. I started to cry because I would have never again anybody who would say what to me to make or not to make, because after the baccalaureat it would be the university, then employment or the marriage. A few thirty minutes after, I said myself that it was stupid to cry because certain people N ' ever knew these moments, moreover I would re-examine my parents. Concurrently to those which never knew their parents, of those which separated parents, whose parents have too many problems to occupy itself of their child, I have were happy and it was like making fun me of them to cry. Mounaïssa is thus this small girl who is all my opposite, me which was raised by my parents. As to sympathize with those which did not have this chance, I sang Mounaïssa, small girl imaginary who cries all the time that his/her parents are separate: in the life one cannot all have.

Would Rokia agree today not to leave in the twilight?

To leave in the twilight is something which I really like. In fact, I made it because one precisely said to me not to do it, as for many of other things. Any reflected good, I realize that I did not like all that. It was more to contradict my parents.

You thus did not set up against this aspect of the Bamanang culture?

At all. They are aspects of the Bamanang culture which I respect. Aspects like the fact that the Bamanang woman works. When one speaks about emancipation of the woman in Africa, I think that it exists for this ethnos group for a long time. The Bamanang woman has her vegetable garden, the man does nothing but cultivate the millet. The woman cultivates the condiments of millet in her vegetable garden, it collects nuts of shea tree for her shea butter which it will sell after the wintering to continue to nourish the family. She cultivates the cotton which she slips by to make of fabrics. She all the time contributed to the life of the family. I respect this aspect deeply. It is a defect besides at when a woman does not do anything. _ on the other hand it there be a thing that I include not, it be the fact that it be not very respect. A woman does not have an opinion to give when it will marry, it does not have an opinion to give to have enfants.Dans the villages, still nowadays, when one tries to make them take contraceptives, they are obliged to hide them because the men require that they have successive pregnancies. They are in extreme cases of the inexistence and in that do not make exeption with the women of the other ethnos groups of Mali. Do you think that you could give your opinion on such subjects through your music? Speaking about this album, I do not have a song which evokes this topic. I find that any reflected good, it is the education of the parents which learns to a small girl the role and the place from the woman. I believe that women will include/understand gradually and refuse to be treated kind.

You thus do not preach the confrontation, but patience. Do you believe in it really?

II has there things which, when I see them, irritate me and I speak about it then. But I wonder whether a song would be sufficient to change this reality. It is too deep, it is not a fashion but a culture. The women could in extreme cases smell themselves badly if that were to occur differently, because at the same time it is easier not to have to decide or deliver its opinion. There is always the responsibility that the parents initially then the husband endorse in our place. One plays the victim. I believe that to some extent they are liked in this diagram of comnortement.

You thus assume the limits of the word, of the song...

Yes it has limits, I believe it. It is necessary to reflect. The songs are useful sometimes, sensitize. From there to sing for only that... One could make songs to sensitize the women within the framework of campaigns. To only sing is not used for nothing on the other hand, it is much deeper than that. It is very serious when I; nenseoarce due it is sad it is slavery under one "In the villages, still nowadays, when one tries to make them take contraceptives they are obliged to hide them because the men require that they have successive pregnancies" another form. I include/understand polygamy if the men 1e and the women accept it. That one comes to announce to a woman that his/her small sister (note: Co-wife) arrives one week front, I do not include/understand it. The woman is not Pa very respected. Bile will cry in vain, nobody does not condescend to run out it, the new woman will arrive. It is not differed from the divorce but at least the divorce leaves a choice: to remain or divorce. At Bamanang the woman does not have choi to give when her husband wishes to marry again. One never knows what could arrive but I see myself Ti in polygamy badly. Then there it will be hot. There are femrni Malians which organize campaigns. They are very p listened because divorced or never married. In a song it would have to be known how well to be made compreni because many women educated in this direction crc that it is normal. They believe that it is the destiny and that it to accept for his/her children. They then require of their first wire all that they did not obtain to husband revenge the mother is very respected.

Why do you make your music?

Initially because I have an immense pleasure to sing. I nej carry out any combat, but there are as well things as I aimel to say so much through my songs. There are many things around us who are not merry because noi: let us not be any more wise. We are not pÎus humble, we forgot a thing which is that we are of passage over ground and that one from will go away all one enjoyed Which it acts of polygamy, of excision, of the wars tribal or of the conflicts between country. it acts at the bottom moreover in plu5 lack of wisdom, more and more of pride, dishonesty. Here is the direction in which I sing. With chaqi time that something touches me, I make a chansoi of it does not carry out a precise combat for a precise cause. What do you think when you intend to speak about these Malians of Kayes in France? It is sad and complicated. There is no feeling in the delivery of the visas. It is necessary to see in the consulates in Aft how are these ladies and these Messrs who accomodate would say robots opposite oneself: one would cry, one sejettel by ground that they would be card-indexed some. Who thus speaks about visa oi residence permit does not speak more of Mali. On another side the French authorities have also their causes. It is very complicated and sad.

Ali Farka Touré is somebody of very important for you...

Ali Farka Touré is very important because it brought much things to me. The insurance in me for example. It him which said to me that also did not have to him of professor of guitar, that it had learned all alone. It told me not a' complexes to have learned all alone. It has me dernan to play like I feel it for a departure. It is also made him the artistic direction of the C.D. in studio. It was semi first stay in studio. It remained during all of weeks and brought much to me.

Collected by Bessomo in June 1998.

Photographs: Carlo Spalieviero// Franck Socha

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