Lobi Traore, Bwati KonoKanaga System Krush, 2010

By now anyone who’s interested knows of the intimate connection between the blues and the traditional music of West Africa. For me and likely many others, the link was first exemplified on American bluesman Johnny Copeland’s 1985 effort “Bringing It All Back Home,” recorded in Ivory Coast with local musicians.  (That album, by the way, has aged extremely well, as I discovered recently when I listened to my old cassette version.)

In the case of Lobi Traore’s Bwati Kono “In The Club” though, it’s the homeland guys who do all the work and make all the music. The album cover promises “raw electric blues from Bamako,” which is true enough, but in fact Traore’s lead guitar is accompanied by both djembe and balafon as well as the usual suspects (drum set, bass, rhythm guitar), so his is a far cry from the typical blues band of the kind we have to be content with on this side of the Atlantic.

The result is wondrous music, a blues genre that’s far more richly textured than we’re used to, a blues in which the emotional element is less pronounced and the musicality takes priority. Imagine the sensuous fluidity of soukous as co-context with the blues. Now imagine guitar solos that move effortlessly from down-home dirty, funky and searing to sparkling, lyrical and majestic. That kind of virtuosity abounds, with inventive riffs atop scintillating percussion atop a solid groove.

You might miss the growling or shouting blues vocals of your typical east Chicago band, but in fact Traore’s singing voice does the job just fine, and I don’t care a bit that I don’t understand the language.  It’s still the most invigorating blues I’ve heard since one magical evening with John Lee Hooker years ago. And now for the bad news; Lobi Traore passed away shortly after the release of this album – a cruel coincidence and a tragic loss. We can only rejoice, however, that through Bwati Kono, Traore’s unique music lives on.

Purchase CD here.