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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Rokia Traore is a Malian singer. She's the daughter of a diplomat. She grew up assimilating European and African cultures, and her 10-year career reflects that. She has developed a sound that uses elements of Malian tradition, and then she makes them her own. Traore's fourth album is called, "Tchamantche." Reviewer Banning Eyre thinks it's her best and most daring work, and he says the opening track tells the whole story.

(Soundbite of music)

BANNING EYRE: Rokia Traore has always stood out as a West African female singer who also plays guitar. Here, she trades in her usual acoustic for a vintage Gretsch jazz guitar and matches its dark tones with a moody, whispering vocal melody.

(Soundbite of song, "Dounia")

Ms. ROKIA TRAORE (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: In this song, "Dounia," or "The World," Traore sings, no one can see, even from the highest point of existence, what tomorrow will be. Days that are honey sweet? Days that taste of gall? Hours of glory, hours of disappointment. Traore touches on the themes of Mali's traditional praise singers, who belt out mighty proclamations about life's inevitable course, but her mode is less sure, more delicate and mysterious. With this introspective mood established, Traore's ensemble joins in, led by a traditional lute.

(Soundbite of song, "Dounia")

Ms. TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Traore's meld of African and rock aesthetics is understated, as comfortable as it is cool. In this one song, her vocal style shifts from that opening whisper to bird-like cooing and ultimately a growling crescendo in which she laments the remoteness of the heroes who built the great societies of the past. As she puts it, the story of an Africa we miss.

(Soundbite of song, "Dounia")

Ms. TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: This is the work of a mature artist who embraces the contradictions of her African ancestry and looks ahead with hope, but also wariness. So begins the album, "Tchamantche," which means balance. The world's less-developed societies have produced many singers who seek to balance musical style, and cultural perspective and address the larger world. Few manage it with the grace and style of Rokia Traore.

(Soundbite of song, "Dounia")

Ms. TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language)

SIEGEL: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed the CD, "Tchamantche" by Rokia Traore. And you can hear songs from the CD at nprmusic.org.

(Soundbite of song, "Dounia")

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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