Beginning at the age of 11, Khaira Arby, cousin to the late great Malian musician Ali Farka Touré, started singing... and singing well! It was then that the Tombouctou-born “Nightingale of the North” rose to popularity quite quickly, performing in 1970 in Mali’s biannual music competition, which features a number of talented traditional and modern ensembles from around the country. Four years later, Arby won third-place for her solo vocalist performance at the same festival. Right when it seemed like Arby was destined for stardom, all the momentum and success died. Arby’s father insisted her performances were affecting her studies too much and persuaded her to stop. She quit singing and got married.
It wasn’t until seven years later, after a divorce with her husband, that she returned to the music world. Back then she had been working closely with a neighborhood cultural group, whose musical ensemble she managed and worked closely with one particularly talented girl. But when it came time for their first performance, after months of preparation, the girl’s father forbid her to perform in public. Arby was forced with the decision to take the girl’s place, thrusting herself back into the musical world.
By 1990, after getting involved with the Orchestre Badema Nationale in Bamako, Arby released her first album, Moulaye, and followed it up with Hala three years later. In 2002, Ya Rassoul was released and is considered by many to be her masterpiece. Last year, Khaira kept herself busy recording with both the American group Sway Machinery and her own outfit from Tomboctou. Her North American debut tour found its way to our studios, and what ensued was a one-of-a-kind experience featured on KEXP’s The Best Ambiance with Jon Kertzer. Check out the videos now: