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Rokia Traoré Live at the Highline Ballroom

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I saw singer/guitarist Rokia Traoré and her band deliver a rollicking set at the Highline Ballroom in New York on March 23, performing songs from her new album Ne So (Nonesuch), which reflects on the profound troubles in the north of her native Mali. As always, Rokia moved seamlessly between singing in Bambara, French and English. At one point the musicians put down their instruments and Rokia started speaking in a soft, intense voice. She said that last Monday she was hurrying to the Brussels airport to catch a flight for New York and she was running late. But when they got there, everything was shut down because the ISIS bombers had just struck.

When Rokia went back to where she was staying in Brussels, she met a woman who was constantly making calls. She explained to Rokia that her husband and son commuted on the same train line that had been bombed by ISIS a half hour earlier. And neither her husband nor her son were answering their phones. The club went absolutely dead silent. The agony of the killing became more real through Rokia’s story. She went on to deliver a powerful rambling meditation on how people respect or don’t respect others, how you can try to turn something terribly negative into something positive, and much more. As she spoke, the band picked up their instruments and softly began playing a Rokia classic, “Zen,” that built and built to an emotional climax.

Check out some photos below by Atane Ofiaja.

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