Rokia Traoré On Taking Up Music, And Mali's 'Iron Women'

Play associated audio

When war broke out in the West African nation of Mali last year, one of the targets was that country's ancient music tradition. As Islamist rebels occupied northern Mali, they banned music and shut down clubs and record shops.

At the time, Malian singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré was finishing her fifth album. Traoré is the daughter of a Malian diplomat, so she grew up moving from continent to continent, absorbing all kinds of musical influences. But her homeland takes center stage on her new record, Beautiful Africa.

"I am singing about all my relatives and friends living in the countryside in Mali and in Africa," Traoré says of the album's closing track, "Sarama." "These women are simply amazing, because when I feel tired I imagine them in their life of every day. They never show that they are tired. They are like iron women: all the time working, but working and smiling and taking care of everything with nothing to support them.

"The amazing thing," she adds, "is that when I go back to my parents' village ... all these people telling me that they are impressed by me, it really makes me cry because they cannot imagine how beautiful they are in the middle of this very difficult life. And I wanted to sing that for them, and to say thank you for being my source of inspiration."

Rokia Traoré also spoke with NPR's Melissa Block about becoming a musician against her parents' wishes, and how it helped her make peace with a conflicted sense of cultural identity. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit


After 10 Years Of Bella And Edward, 'Twilight Reimagined' Brings A Twist

NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with author Stephenie Meyer about the appeal her Twilight books and her new novel, which reassigns the genders of the original characters.

New Dietary Guidelines Will Not Include Sustainability Goal

A government-appointed panel wanted the federal government's 2015 nutrition advice to consider a food's environmental impact. But the cabinet secretaries with final authority say it won't happen.
WAMU 88.5

Concerns Over Russia's Growing Military Presence In Syria

Russia is sending what it calls "volunteer" troops to Syria, and its airstrikes have targeted CIA-backed rebels. We look at Russia's support of the Assad regime and escalating concerns over a possible U.S.-Russia proxy war in Syria.

WAMU 88.5

Searching For Solutions To World Water Scarcity

Experts are increasingly sounding the alarm about water shortages around the world. But, they say, there is room for hope. A conversation about the search for solutions to global water scarcity.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.