Ode to the South African singer Miriam Makeba

Once Upon a Time, an Iron Rose...

Rokia Traoré

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‘The first international star of African music was a woman – that’s important, but people don’t talk about her much.’ The world-famous Malinese singer-songwriter Rokia Traoré has taken it upon herself to change that. Once Upon a Time, an Iron Rose... is all about her big inspiration, ‘Mama Africa’ Miriam Makeba (1932-2008). Makeba actively fought against apartheid. Also she was the first African woman to win a Grammy and her song Pata Pata made her into a global star. In 1990, at Nelson Mandela’s request, she returned to her native country after thirty years of exile. With vocals, historical images and more, the versatile Traoré, who previously featured at the festival in Peter Sellars’ Desdemona, pays a deeply personal tribute to the legendary South African singer.

Biography

Rokia Traoré (Kati, 1974) is an award-winning Malian singer, composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. Traoré grew up as the daughter of a diplomat. Partly as a result of her itinerant childhood, she became

familiar with a rich variety of music at an early age, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, to Richard Wagner, Serge Gainsbourg and The Rolling Stones.

Her identity is deeply rooted in West Africa Mandinka culture but Traoré was born into the Bambara ethnic group and thus, considered a noble, she was not deemed to have the right to learn and sing the songs of the griots or choose a life of musicianship. Undeterred, Traoré established a successful career for herself as a musician, beginning in the 1990s. In 1997 she collaborated with the well-known Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, and she won the Radio France Internationale Découverte Afrique award. A year later, her debut album Mouneissa received high praise, thanks to its original take on Malian instruments and Malian traditions.

Her second album, Wanita (2000), was dubbed one of the best albums of the year by the New York Times. On Bowmboï (2003), Traoré collaborated with the Kronos Quartet, among others, and this album was awarded the prestigious BBC 3 World Music Award. She produced several more successful albums after this. In 2004 she toured North America and in 2009 she received the Victoire de la Musique and Best Artist awards at the Songlines Music Awards. In that same year she returned to Bamako in Mali where she established the Fondation Passerelle arts centre. In 2013 Traoré performed for the first time at the Holland Festival, in Desdemona (2010) by Nobel laureate Toni Morrison and director Peter Sellars – a musical deconstruction of Shakespeare’s Othello.

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Credits

concept, mise en scène
Rokia Traoré
text
Maylis de Kérangal, Rokia Traoré
artistic advice
Neo Muyanga
costumes
Olga Papon
light
Ralf Nonn
video
Germain Fourvel
sound
Massimo Cugini