Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Rokia Traoré: Bowmboï [Nonesuch, 2004]
Most of the musicians are Malian, but on just two songs the dread Kronos Quartet establish the size, clarity, and justness of this young pretender's ambitions. Not merely because both tracks are strikingly beautiful--although Kronos recorded in Marin County with a separate producer, they fit right in on a collection whose delicate formalism seems deeply African despite its intermittent groove, and also specifically Malian (the lyrics are in Traoré's native Bamanan, a minority tongue). Overrated overreachers like Susana Baca and Milton Nascimento couldn't equal the lithe discretion that cloaks her sense of drama if they had the sense to try. The translations are welcome--this is a strong, modern woman. But before long that vulgar manifestation of the music's meaning is subsumed in sound. A-