Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Khaira Arby

  • Timbuktu Tarab [Clermont Music, 2010] B+
  • Tchini Tchini [Clermont Music EP, 2012] A-
  • New York Live [Clermont Music, 2021] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Timbuktu Tarab [Clermont Music, 2010]
Although she's too unreconstructed to inspire much loose talk about feminism, this cousin of Ali Farka Toure's--one of many, I bet--has the gravity and the drive to replace the effectively emeritus Oumou Sangare as Mali's female musical ambassador. Problem is, while this 2010 album is arresting, it's also fatiguing. Of course she's singing in her sand-blasted power contralto, but over 12 tracks it's often more like she's holding forth--after all that hectoring you crave some lilt, the sense that maybe she'll dance a few steps when she does thisone live. Nice theory, only the two liltiest concern "the anguish of women" and "workers returning from the salt mines." She's not getting ready to dance. She's just giving herself time to think. B+

Tchini Tchini [Clermont Music EP, 2012]
Conceived as new merch to sell on an American tour that ended before the pressing was ready, this three-track EP doubles as an economical introduction. Its near-frantic four-and-half-minute? opener is guitar-driven. Its trickier five-minute closer is drum-driven. And for the seven-minute wedding song in between she relaxes a little with her ngoni guy before the guitar guy has his say. Not fatiguing, that's for sure. A-

New York Live [Clermont Music, 2021]
New York doesn't mean Central Park, the Beacon, even Webster Hall. It's Annandale-on-Hudson, home of Bard College and just south of her American benefactors at Germantown's high-principled Clermont Music label. Arby is the the Timbuktu-based Tuareg-Songhai powerhouse who courageously headlined the 2012 Festival au Desert as jihadists bore down on her hometown, was exiled in Bamako before returning home in 2015, then died at only 58 in 2018. As the Festival records suggest, she put out live with an intensity she wasn't moved to match in the studio, so this is a treasure. What a foghorn. What a believer. What a band to push her all the way, with special props to guitarist Dramane Toure, who wrecks one called "Salou." A-