Imported from France by "presenter" Jonathan Demme, this graceful portrait of the great Malian singer and guitarist Boubacar Traore is also as a fascinating snapshot of Mali in the decades following the west African nation's independence from France in 1960. Nicknamed "KarKar" — Bambar for "break" — on account of his skillful dribbling in soccer, Traore...read more
Imported from France by "presenter" Jonathan Demme, this graceful portrait of the great Malian singer and guitarist Boubacar Traore is also as a fascinating snapshot of Mali in the decades following the west African nation's independence from France in 1960. Nicknamed "KarKar" — Bambar for "break" — on account of his skillful dribbling in soccer, Traore is credited as the man who, deeply influenced by Elvis Presley and American rock 'n' roll movies, first brought the electric guitar and the Twist to Africa. But in the heady days following Mali's independence, he was also identified with something a little more historically important: Traore was widely held to be the voice of a new generation, encouraging the youth of Mali to rise up and fulfill the dream of an independent Mali. The identification was so complete, in fact, that when the utopian dream began to sour, many, including some of Traore's closest friends, blamed him for having lured them all into a trap. By then married with a growing family and unable to make a proper living playing music, Traore packed away his guitar and brought his career in music to a quiet close. The next time one friend saw Traore, he was selling children's underwear from a small table in a village market. After the unexpected death of his first wife, Pierette, Traore left Africa entirely, emigrating to France where he earned his living working as a salesman. His disappearance was so total that, before his return to music years later at the behest of an English record label, many back home simply assumed he was dead. Narrated by friends and fellow musicians, the film mixes cool black and white snapshots dating back to Traore's early years with contemporary footage of Traore travelling back to the small village of Kayes where he's reunited with old friends, and Timbuktu where he duets with famed Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure (the music they make together is among the film's many highlights). And of course, there's Traore's music, an irresistible, often haunted mixture of American deep blues, African rhythms and Middle Eastern accents. For many, the soundtrack to this beautifully shot film will probably mark their first encounter with Traore and the intoxicating sounds of his unique brand of Malian blues. Chances are it won't be their last. (In French and Bambar, with English subtitles.)
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