Boubacar Traoré was born in Kayes, in 1942, in the Bambara region of Mali. His nickname, Kar Kar was given to him when he was the local school football (soccer) star. It means “the one who dribbles too much” in Bambara. Kar Kar is a self taught musician. He began to compose music at an early age, influenced by American blues and kassonké, a traditional music style from the Kayes region. Kar Kar’s older brother spent eight years in Cuba studying music and, once he returned to Mali, he helped his brother learn how to play the guitar.
In the early 1960s, Mali won its independence and the people of Mali awoke each morning to the sound of Kar Kar’s melancholic voice on the radio which sang of independence. Every person in Mali from his generation remembers having danced to his hits “Kar Kar Madison”, “Mali Twist” and “Kayes Ba,” in which he encouraged his fellow citizens to return and build the country.
Despite his radio success, Kar Kar could barely support himself. He earned a living as a tailor, shop keeper and agricultural agent. During the evenings he trained orchestras and sung for his friends.
After a twenty-year absence from the stage, in 1987, Boubacar Traoré was invited to perform for Malian TV and many people couldn’t believe their eyes. Unfortunately, two years later, life took a tragic turn when Boubacar’s wife, Pierrette, died. Dazed and heartbroken, Kar Kar left Mali to work in France. During the weekends he performed for his fellow immigrants until a British label, Stern’s, discovered him and produced two CDs. This led to European and North American tours.
Boubacar Traoré has risen from the ashes and still sings better than ever. Faithful to his roots, for the recording of his album “Sa Golo,” he sought out Baba Dramé, a childhood friend, in his hometown of Kayes, to accompany him on the calabash. On the title song “Sa Golo”, they are in the Kayes of the past where magicians in clanging outfits made the night air resonate.
The film, Je chanterai pour toi, about Boubacar’s life was released in 2001 and is now available on DVD.
After an erratic career with long periods of absence, it was at around seventy that Boubacar returned to the public eye in the company of Vincent Bucher, one of the finest French contemporary harmonica players. Vincent brought an international feel to Boubacar’s music, as demonstrated by two records – Mali Denhou (2011) and Mbalimaou (2015) – and many concerts throughout the world, accompanied by Alassane Samaké’s subtle calabash.
On “Dounia Tabolo” (2017), Boubacar decided to continue with this internationalization, bringing in musicians from the Southern States of the USA he had met on tour: Cedric Watson on violin and washboard, and Corey Harris on guitar. When he told them he wanted to add a cello and female voice to the album, Cedric Watson suggested Leyla McCalla.
Mariama (Stern’s Africa, 1990)
Kar Kar (Stern’s Africa, 1992)
Sa Golo (Indigo, 1997)
Maciré (Label Bleu, 1999)
Je Chanterai Pour Toi (Marabi Productions, 2002)
Kongo Magni (Marabi Productions, 2005)
Mali Denhou (Lusafrica, 2011)
Mbalimaou (Lusafrica, 2014
Dounia Tabolo (Lusafrica 2017
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV 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 albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.