Malian singer, Kharia Arby has won the distinguished Tamani D’Or Award. The award is given by the Malian music industry to honour newcomers and established musicians. To list previous awardees is to give a roll call of the top Malian artists from the last fifty years; Oumou Sangare, Salif Keita, Bassekou Kouyate, Toumani Diabate and Ali Farka Toure have all been honoured.
Khaira Arby is from the desert region of Agouni, north of Timbuktu. Her family are of mixed ethnicity: her mother is Songhai Arab and her father Arab Berber. Arby sings in Sonrai, Arabic and Tamashek and uses a wide variety of instruments and rhythms from various traditions. In her youth she was forbidden to sing by her father. But she went it alone anyway and has become a veritable star in Mali. Her career began working in the Orchestre Badema in Bamako. She regularly performed at state biennales and festivals and recorded cassettes such as Ya Rassoul. Already popular on the world music scene in America, her 2010 album Timbuktu Tarabwas well received internationally. The New York Times called it, ‘one of the best albums of the decade’. Khaira commented of her Tamani D’Or Award, ‘It is very moving to have my work recognized in Mali’.
Khaira is cousin to the late Ali Farka Toure, and you can hear that bluesy desert flavour in the guitar lines. Yet her vocal agility and mix of styles distinguishes her approach. She speaks in recitative, ululates at a high pitch and sings melodically throughout the album. Khaira will perform at WOMAD in the UK this summer.