Lobi Traoré’s tragic (and unexpected) death at the age of 49 in 2010 put an end to his career before he could amass the kind of extensive discography that he seemed to be so able to provide. Luckily, before he passed, Traoré left behind Bamako Nights: Live at Bar Bozo 1995, a previously unreleased treasure available from Glitterbeat Records. The recording captures Traoré in the early stages of his career, announcing his presence as a unique impassioned voice and blazing guitarist within the talent-heavy scene of Mali.
Born in 1961 in the village of Bakaridiana in the Ségou Region of Mali, Traoré was inspired to start playing after hearing guitarist Zani Diabate and his Super Djata Band. The influence of Western rock music is also quite evident from his distortion-heavy solos on Live at Bar Bozo. Traoré’s credentials within the Mali music scene were sealed by his association with the country’s most internationally acclaimed electric guitar player, Ali Farka Touré. Touré produced three of Traoré’s albums, including Bamako, widely considered his breakthrough and released the same year he recorded Live at Bar Bozo.
The recordings on Live at Bar Bozo are undeniably raw- both in style and in fidelity. Appropriately enough, the Bar in question was a dark and crowded working-class establishment that closed down soon after the recording of this album. The sense of late-at-night danger and excitement is apparent throughout, and- thrillingly- Traoré sounds completely in his element in these surroundings. Like many others in Mali at this time, Traoré had migrated from the village to the city, and his music expresses the tension in this transition from rural to urban and traditional to modern. A small man at about five feet in height, Traoré nevertheless had a powerful presence onstage, laying into his flanger pedal and producing riffs of such undeniable fluid density that they seem to bypass the labels of blues, rock, or folk. This is quintessential 2 in the morning Malian nightclub music
He starts things off slow on “Ni tugula mogo mi ko,” but the feeling in his voice leads on the audience to clap their hands, shout, and whistle along to his soft playing and plaintive cries. He really gets into the twisted soloing on “Banami,” a song that sounds like a fevered awakening of some kind. The listener can imagine many, like the dancing man on the album cover, looking stunned and amazed by the performance they were witnessing. On “Sigui nyongon son fo,” Traoré quickens his pace, giving the dancers in the crowd something to groove to.
The album’s closer, “Bamaku N’tichi,” features stunning performances by both Traoré and his drummer, interlaced with Traoré’s own staccato yelps and the cries of adoring fans in the audience. We’re all lucky someone was there to record it.