No Griot Girl

Rokia Traore's second album finds her refining the sound she pioneered on her debut, Mouneïssa. While still mainly using such traditional Malian instruments as the balafon and n'goni, she accompanies herself on guitar on tracks such as "Kanan Neni" (Don't Insult Me) (RealAudio excerpt). Wanita is enlivened by the occasional electric instrument and the cascading flow of Toumani Diabate's masterful kora work.

More than the instrumental textures, though, it's Traore's singing (with plenty of graceful backing harmonies) that drives this album, as on "Mancipera" (RealAudio excerpt), her duet with singer/guitarist Boubacar Traoré (no relation). With her soft, aching voice, Traore is more reminiscent of a Western folk singer than a praise-singing griot. Her subject matter reflects West Africa's burgeoning feminist movement, as on "Mousou Niyalén" (RealAudio excerpt), wherein she exhorts her countrywomen to demand respect and not stand for polygamy.

Wanita captures an artist with enough confidence and talent to cross the bridge that joins ancient and modern ways.