Bamako Nights captures the incendiary genius of Lobi Traoré, a soulful singer/songwriter and blazing electric guitarist of Mali, who died too young – just 49 years old – in 2010. Lobi produced five studio albums during his career, as well as four live releases, including the solo acoustic session Rainy Season Blues (Glitterhouse 2010). But Bamako Nights offers the deepest and most intimate record of this artist’s astounding power on stage in a small Bamako nightclub.
In 1995, the Bar Bozo was a unique destination. Mali’s democracy was just a few years old, and people were finding new ways to exercise freedom. The bar was an unglamorous, downtown nightspot, dark and often crowded. It didn’t cater to elites, but working people, who came to drink and dance and enjoy a live band long into the night. Lobi Traore was still emerging as a popular artist in Bamako. His earthy blend of Bambara roots and edgy electric guitar, and his philosophical songs of social life and the challenges rural people face in the city, were made to order for Bar Bozo. No wonder he packed the place on a weekly basis.
Lobi had begun recording albums by that time, and performing in Europe with an acoustic ensemble. But at Bar Bozo, he and his small electric ensemble were developing a new, rawer sound, one that would make Lobi a staple of Bamako’s live scene, and a legend of African blues celebrated around the world. You can hear in this smoldering session Lobi’s joy at having recently acquired a flanger pedal. His solos build to soaring, ecstatic heights, as unhinged as anything in African rock since.
The set starts out slow and meditative with “Ni Tugula Mogo Mi Ko,” conjuring a trance atmosphere that Lobi elevates systematically with his keening vocal and eloquent picking. You can almost feel the weight of a sweltering Bamako night as Lobi forcefully guides his band though musical catharsis. By the time they kick into high gear on “Sigui Nyongon Son Fo,” the weight has lifted and spirits are flying.
It’s hard to say enough about Lobi as a guitar stylist. His sound echoes older Malian pentatonic guitarists, notably the iconic Zani Diabate, whom Lobi accompanied briefly. And there are clear rock echoes; Lobi was a fan of AC/DC’s Angus Young! But in the end, Lobi’s guitar voice is his own, unmistakable, deeply informed by tradition and graced with sparkling personal epiphanies – even with the flanger set to 110%.
A few weeks after this recording was made, Bamako authorities closed down the Bar Bozo, and Lobi had to move his joyful party to an obscure venue on the outskirts of town. Bamako Nights is a time capsule recording. It evokes an artist, a time, and a place that came together with amazing potency, and can never be recreated.
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