Khaira Arby, also known as the Nightingale of the North, was born in the village of Abaradjou in the Sahara Desert north of Timbuktu (Mali). Khaira’s parents came from different ethnic backgrounds. Her mother was Songhai and her father Berber. You can hear these cultures in her music; she sings in several languages.
The instrumentation and rhythms are just as varied with electric guitar and bass, calabash, ngoni, traditional violin, and percussion creating a complex mixture of sound and structure. Some people compare the effect to the rhythms of the camel caravans crossing the Sahara.
To no one’s surprise, Khaira won her first singing contest while just a schoolgirl and was chosen to represent Mali internationally. By the age of 22 Khaira had made her first recording with the Orchestre Regional de Tombouctou and after a short time was invited to sing with the famous Orchestre Badema in Bamako.
She continued to earn her stripes beside such Malian stars as her cousin, Ali Farka Touré and the widely influential Fissa Maiga. Since the 1990’s Khaira has focused all her energies on her music. With three albums in her own name and a fourth about to be released she is the Voice of Mali’s North.
Khaïra sings in the desert blues tradition and her music takes the listener on an audio journey across the essence of Mali and Timbuktu, a meeting of compass points, religions, cultures, past and present. She sings about love, peace, family and the lives of women. She expresses her pride in the history and struggles of her desert homeland and its people.
Khaïra lives in Timbuktu with her family. She performs at concerts and festivals throughout Mali and France. She has appeared several times with her band at the mythic Festival in the Desert in Essakane and at the Festival on the Niger River in Segu. In 2006 she was named a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mali.
In 2012, Islamist jihadists took over northern Mali and Khaira Arby was forced to flee to Bamako. Three years later, in 2015, she returned to Timbuktu.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.