Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lobi Traore

Jimi Hendrix has a new partner to jam with in the Starlight Lounge. Lobi Traore, one of West Africa's best blues guitarists crossed over to the other side quite unexpectedly on June 1. Apparently he had just finished a gig in Bamako, went home, told his wife he wasn't feeling well, then died sometime in the night. Lobi was just 49. He is survived by his wife and four children.

I had the great pleasure of recording two albums with him in Bamako, Mali, an acoustic one called Barra Coura , and an electric one that's at the cd manufacturing plant as we speak.

Barra Coura is Traore's one and only 'unplugged' release. It featured him on acoustic guitar and lead vocals. Except for the first track which had Adama Couloubally playing a traditional bass instrument called as balon, only one other musician accompanied him with an acoustic guitar and background vocals. We recorded this in Abdoul Doumbia's living room after clearing it of all furniture. The hard-surfaced reflective walls were completely bare except for a framed, stylized picture of the 99 Names of God in gold, arabic script. I set-up my 'control room' station just outside on the porch.

The dynamic of Lobi's sound on Barra Coura ranges from raw and gritty to intimate and light. As he recorded, I remember thinking that this must be the African equivalent of Mississippi delta blues. All of the songs were first takes, and no overdubs were added. This music is about as real as it gets.

Traore's electric album, Bwati Kono, recorded with his group at a club he played at in Bamako during off hours, is due for release any day now. We mastered it about a week before he died. It's even more raw and gritty than the acoustic one. Producer Aja Salvatore and myself attempted to authentically capture the sound of Traore playing in a Bamako nightclub which meant micing the vocals through an overdriven PA system. The difficult recording conditions - no isolation, groung loops to contend with, etc. only contributed to the authenticity of the sound.

I didn't know Lobi very well, but he presented himself as someone extremely unpretentious and down to earth. His disposition was reserved but cheerful whenever I saw him. Traore was not a tragic bluesman living a self-destructive lifestyle. Paradoxically, he had a sense of innocence and playfulness, yet also seemed not unfamiliar with the struggles of life. I want to say that he sometimes had a look of world weariness, except that he wasn't weary at all, just experienced.

Lobi was an accomplished guitarist with a great deal of soul. Bonnie Raitt, no slouch herself on the electric slide guitar, after hearing Traore play on a trip to Mali, invited him to a private jam with her. He was also friends with Ali Farka Toure who had produced one of his earlier albums.

Both Barra Coura and Bwati Kono are field recordings from Bamako, Mali. Produced by Aja Salvatore and engineered by yours truly, they were recorded using a Macbook laptop and the Digi 002 Pro Tools system. These cds were mixed at Prairie Sun in Cotati, CA and mastered at High Velocity in Grass Valley, CA.

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