Kar Kar is by far the most cult Malian guitarist. His Mali Twist accompanied the wild post-independence years before he disappeared for a period of twenty years. He was the Malian Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley, however, his music only being broadcasted on the radio, he didn’t even have enough money for a packet of cigarettes.
Boubacar Traoré is one of those solid men who reflect the past of an entire country, the hopes and despairs of a people. This has given him matter to create a seizing Blues full of old sadness, revealing a powerful voice and a suave guitar style. As if Kayes and Bamako were on the banks of the Mississippi…
Photograph : Philippe Dupuich.
Boubacar Traoré was born in Kayes in the Northeast of Mali in 1942. He grew up in this town, 400 km from Bamako, and it all started at the end of the fifties during the socialist regime of Modobo Keïta. Around 1957 / 58 Boubacar was acting in the theatre but had secretly started to learn the guitar on his elder brother’s instrument. His brother had studied music for eight years in Cuba and did not like his little brother using his instrument. The young Boubacar was impressed by his brother’s Afro-Cuban playing style. Very early on, Boubacar declared that he did not want “to die without knowing music”.
At the beginning of the sixties he became a tailor in Bamako Courra and also started up a group of eight musicians, les Pionniers Jazz (the Jazz Pioneers) with whom he performed regularly. Jazz, rumba, méréngué, hula-hoop, cha-cha-cha, twist, Madison… Bamako’s mythical Café de la Gare was treated to all kinds of music revisited by Traoré with his Malian spirit.
In 1961, the Mali Federation (Mali and Senegal) split up and a wind of independence blew across the whole of Western Africa. At this time radio was one of the only means of broadcasting music, and Kar Kar kept on composing at a frenetic pace. His appearance on the show “Les Auditeurs du Dimanche” (“The Sunday Listeners”) earned him an unequalled notoriety: he sung eight songs, including Mali Twist and Kayeba, two pleas for the reconstruction of the country which went on to become huge hits. His reputation spread like wild fire from then on.
“The people of Mali loved me. I was their Johnny Halliday, or their James Brown, but I didn’t even have enough money for a packet of cigarettes!” Music does not pay and Kar Kar was leading a really Bohemian life. However he was the uncontested star of the grins, small local clubs, and was elevated as a yé-yé icon. 1967 was a turning point: “the cultural revolution brought about a lot of changes, but less freedom. We could no longer stay out in the street, girls could no longer dress how they liked and parties were regulated”. And thus he went back to Nioro, near Kayes and set up as a farmhand. His talent and notoriety were very quickly forgotten when he got back to his hometown. “I had a trade going with my brother. All kinds of goods. From ’74 to ’88 I was in Kayes. I played no music. When you are married and have kids, you can’t be a musician because it makes no money. So I didn’t play”. This silence lasted for nearly twenty years. In 1981 when his brother died the whole of Mali went into a memorable confusion: it was Kar Kar who was believed to have passed on to a better place, and so the myth took shape.
In 1987 some astonished journalists from Bamako found him by chance and he accepted to give a live interview on television: the television channel’s switchboard went haywire with all the calls; “people were asking why were we showing pictures of the deceased Kar Kar!” This sounded the call for his comeback, for a true resurrection – in all senses of the word. In 1989 he recorded a cassette, Mariama, which paradoxically did not sell well, for the confusion over his alleged-death still reigned. Kar Kar was a living legend, Boubacar Traoré was just a Malian singer. It was the British label Stern’s Africa that succeeded in linking the two identities by bringing out his best tracks on CD from Mariama to Kar Kar. Things started to go in the right direction at last, concert after concert throughout the whole world, and Kar Kar set up home with all his family on land just outside Bamako, bought with the money from royalties. Only his brother and, above all his wife, Pierrette, who died in 1969 and without whom life is no longer the same, were missing. From Sécheresse to Maciré, via Sa Golo, his latest albums published in Europe have been met with great enthusiasm by critics and the general public alike. The lethal softness of the songs, the tellurian and fluid swing of the guitar lines, the poetry of silence: not once since Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder’s great album had such a simple and subtle, sad and serene Blues been heard. If Ali Farka Touré is Mali’s answer to John Lee Hooker, then Boubacar Traoré is their answer to Robert Johnson.
Between setbacks and bad luck, sadness and the loss of loved ones, Kar Kar has succeeded in keeping a tight ship, by imposing on the world his poignant Blues –pure, intimate and so sincere - for good. “When a man who has been in prison for thirty years becomes president of South Africa and when a man who has played no music for twenty years makes a comeback, it is God’s work. Who else could do that ?”
Go to :
Rokia Traore ; Ballaké Sissoko ; Djélimady Tounkara ; Kamale n'goni ; Super Rail Band de Bamako.
Name: Corinne Serres / Mad Minute Music
Tel: 01 40 10 25 55
Fax: 01 40 10 17 37
Adress: 5-7 rue Paul Bert
93400 Saint Ouen