I first experienced Khaira Arby's forceful singing in the music documentary "The Festival in the Desert: The Tent Sessions" which focused on the intimate musical happenings away from the main stage at the 2003 gathering outside Timbuktu. I immediately recognized a formidable voice: piercing, flexible and joyous. In an interview in the film she even says that she loved singing so much that she divorced her husband who had disapproved of her singing, and had been singing ever since.
Well, Khaira Arby has been touring in North America for the past few weeks driving them wild in venues large and small. Lucky for me, I got a last minute notification from Banning Eyre of Afropop Worldwide that she had added a last minute gig to her itinerary, at the Bowery Poetry Club, not far from my home. So I grabbed my camera and headed down. Banning had mentioned that the band was thoroughly smokin' --and they certainly were!
Although Khaira had been playing to packed houses, the word had not gotten out sufficiently about this particular gig to draw a large crowd...But that worked to my advantage, as I was able to get close to the stage and videotape without banging into dancers.
This is music to sway to, to dance to, even to meditate to. (And certainly to dance the stately Takamba to, as they do here.) While there is a lot of call and response repetition, the music calls upon the singer to improvise between the repeated phrases, and this is where the meat of the music lies. I recommend more than one listening.
Speaking of which, Khaira has a CD out on the US label Clermont Music. It is available through amazon.com, iTunes and "http://www.myspace.com/khairaarby".