Khaira Arby
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Khaira Arby

Germantown, New York, United States | INDIE

Germantown, New York, United States | INDIE
Band World Blues


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"Malian Singer Khaira Arby Discusses Career, Politics"

Anchor Marco Werman talks to Malian singer and composer Khaira Arby about her career and political causes. Arby came to WGBH studios to perform. - PRI

"Khaira Arby, Timbuktu diva"

In the United States, she left a mark with her impressive 2011 tour, her voice and style, to the point that the New York Times ranked her 2010 album, Timbuktu Tarab, among the best world music albums of the decade - rfi music

"Coup d’etat unites Malian musicians in a call for peace"

Khaira Arby is scheduled to tour North America beginning April 26th in Dallas, Texas. Everyone is anxious about her ability to get out of the country, and Khaira is worried about leaving her family during these critical times, if the situation there is not clarified.
When she arrives in the U.S., she will continue to call for a peaceful resolution to all conflicts around the world. She is keenly aware of the long-term suffering created by war falls most heavily on the shoulders of women. A strong advocate for women’s rights and for respect for women, she will continue to put this issue front and center.
Timbuktu is a cosmopolitan city where people from all places meet. Khaira Arby hopes that the future holds a continued opening of the city to tourism, investment, and culture. - Cultural Diplomacy News

"Album Review of TIMBUKTU TARAB"

"However dense the instrumental interplay, Arby's singing dominates. Her voice soars above the groove, establishing motifs that both the musicians and backing singers embroider." - The Washington Post

"Best Photos from SXSW"

A slide show of the best photos of SXSW Day 2 - Spin

"NPR reviews Khaira Arby at SXSW in Austin TX on 17 March 2011"

"One of the living legends of Malian music" - NPR

"Jon Pareles review of Khaira Arby's concert on 5 March 2011 at the Bell House Brooklyn NY"

"one of Africa’s greatest singers", Jon Pareles, New York Times, 6 March 2011 - New York Times

"Khaira Arby - Ya Rassoul"

This is the best music I know of in the Sahel. Khaira Arby is enormously popular in Timbuktu, where you will hear this tape playing out of a ghetto blaster in a shop or the cassette deck of a car. This is not "world music," this is just plain old awesome music that straddles the linguistic and cultural divide of a place like Timbuktu. Arby sings in Tamashek and Sonrai languages, among others, appealing to two of the main groups living in Timbuktu, the Tuareg and Songhai.

Sorry to be out of the game for a while... perhaps this tape makes up for the wait? Seriously, this is one of my top three favorites. Period.
- Brian Shimkovitz,

"US Rock Group Collaborates with Malian Musician"

...The Sway Machinery blends traditional Jewish music with a powerful horn section and driving drum beats. This is their song, Anim Zemiros off their first Album, "Hidden Melodies Revealed". Their next album will feature three songs by Malian folksinger Khaira Arby.

Arby says she can put all of the melodies she wants into their songs. And the Sway Machinery can play all of the music she sings. It is something that comes together well and sounds good.

Arby says this song she wrote, called Gawa Teria Mou, is about peace. In this version the Sway Machinery backs up Arby's voice.

Arby says the song is about working together in peace on the land, working together in understanding. The song says we do not want bombs or war, we want irrigation for farming and seeds to plant in the earth. Arby says the song is about ending war in Africa and around the world and was written in response to political unrest in Northern Mali. ...
- Voice of America

"Khaira Arby"

Time on stage: Sunset, both Thursday and Friday.

Dress code: Silver head dress and henna accentuate Arby's fluid hand movements and dancing.

In summary: Khaira Arby is clearly regarded as a treasure of Timbuktu, for her appearance on stage brings warm applause from an audience that usually restricts any displays of admiration to dancing. Arby's performances are as much about performance as they are about the music; she wears a dress that is made of brown, patterned leather and her silver head dress catches the light and throws it back across the crowd.

Her all-male band play electric guitar, drums and an acoustic, high-pitched two-stringed instrument, while she gently sings long, emphatic songs that encompass the history and the role of her people in Timbuktu. She talks about how men and women from different classes cannot marry, attacking it as an outdated notion that does not reflect the Tuareg's true attitude to love.

Highlight: When various fellow performers join her onstage and shower her with money, a custom that seems to be reserved for older performers but the exact meaning of which I'm still to get to the bottom of. -

"Khaira Arby"

Haira (sometimes spelled Khaira) Arby has been given the title 'The Nightingale of the North" and I can attest to that. I heard her sing while sitting on a bus in Mali - torn leather seats, the afternoon heat pressing against the windows and the beautiful brown crisp landscape of Mali in the dry season rolling past. I found her cassette 'Ya Rassoul' at a kiosk in Djenne and now as I listen to it back in the UK I realise what a perfect soundtrack it is to Mali. You can hear drums that sound like camels feet, percussion that evoke desert sand and the rustling dry heat and in every song Haira's voice, with its incredible range and pitch, sounding like a dream. But what is there out there on Haira? Very little on the net and the people I asked in Mali loved her music but didn't seem to know much about her. What I have gleaned is she has performed at the Festival au Desert in 2003 and 2005, with a couple of cassettes released domestically, and then some European dates in march 2005 in Brussels and Holland. Banning Eyre of Afropop rummaged around in the archives and found a transcription of an interview Afropop did with Haira from 2003 which has helped put the pieces together. She is from the desert- from Agouni, north of Timbuktu - born into a family of mixed ethnicity a Songhai Arab mother and an Arab Berber father. You can hear this in her music - she sings in Sonrai, Arabic, Tamashek, the instruments and rhythms just as varied with electric guitar and trickling beats, calabash, traditional violin and guitar, drumming that creates that abrupt squared sound of music from that part of the country. But with no relations who were musicians preceding her and a father who forbade her to sing or to play music, Haira has had to go out on her own and carve her own path as a musician. Starting out by working with Orchestre Badema in Bamako, then performing at biennales, the festivals and then some dates in Europe in 02 and now some in 05. It's been a slow journey since the 1980's when she started to focus all her energies on her music. Like Haira herself, her music travels on an audio journey the essence of Mali - a meeting of compass points, religion, culture, the past and present. She sings about marriage, love, peace, the lives of the people from the region she comes from, development and democracy. The tracks on the 'Ya Rassoul' album are lovely and long - some over 6 minutes. There is 'Amandiath' which showcases that unique round sound of the traditional guitar. The production is so good you can hear the player's fingers tugging the strings, accompanied by the harsh haunting sound of the violin. Then the funky electric sound of 'Ehe Youma' with its intricate guitar moves, the soft slow bass guitar and all the while the call and response of the vocals, with the 'response' of the chorus just managing to hold down Haira's soaring 'call'. The language is new too - soft rounded vowels, rolling r's, guttural sounds - words like 'biobini' pronounced 'bwaibini' , the curvaceous 'sourgou'. Timing is everything - the layering, pausing and meandering of the music and instruments that act as a backdrop and allow Haira's voice to run free. The Malians love her and I just hope an international album release is only a matter of time and then the rest of us can have a taste of her magic. 'Ya Rassoul' is produced by Samassa Records, Mali. As yet, it is not available internationally…

"Ramata Diakite and Khaira Arby"

I have her Ya Rassoul album -- released domestically, no info on when though but I really rate her. She was given the title 'The Nightingale of the North' a long time ago and it's well deserved. The tracks on the Ya Rassoul album are lovely and long -- some over 6 minutes. There is 'Amandiath' which showcases that unique round sound of the traditional guitar. The production is so good you can hear the player's fingers tugging the strings, accompanied by the harsh haunting sound of the violin.

Then the funky electric sound of 'Ehe Youma' with its intricate guitar moves, the soft slow bass guitar and all the while the call and response of the vocals, with the 'response' of the chorus just managing to hold down Khaira's soaring 'call'. The language is new too -- soft rounded vowels, rolling r's, guttural sounds -- words like 'biobini' pronounced 'bwaibini', the curvaceous 'sourgou'.

Like Khaira herself, her music travels on an audio journey to the essence of Mali -- a meeting point of compass points, religion, culture, the past and present. She sings about marriage, love, peace, the lives of the people from the region she comes from, development and democracy. The music is subtle and understated, and Khaira's voice tops it all with its incredible range and pitch.. magic. -

"Khaira Arby"

She is a Diva, a praise singer, poet, story teller. To me she is what Malian female artists are all about. Voice of incredible range and pitch, and songs that seem to last forever, as if she has a lot to say. Khaïra is a grande dame, she is important, at one stage she says "they all started out with me - now they're famous". -

"Khaira Arby, Voice of the sand dunes of Timbuktu"

Khaira Arby, la voix des dunes de sable de Tombouctou
Par Assane Koné - 30/03/2010
Rare femme originaire du nord du Mali à pratiquer la musique, Khaïra Arby est aujourd'hui vue comme le "Rossignol du Nord"

Avec ses musiciens à Tombouctou

Et, pourtant, n'eut été sa témérité, cette artiste dont le père n'appréciait pas de la voir tenir un micro, allait comprimer son talent et passer inaperçue comme bon nombre de ses concitoyens. Le destin en a voulu autrement. Et Khaira Arby est aujourd'hui, le porte étendard de la musique du nord Mali. Mais quel fut son parcours ?

Prédestinée à chanter

Si elle tarde à récolter tous les fruits à la hauteur de son talent à l'international, Khaira Arby n'est plus à présenter au niveau national. Si au Mali, un artiste dément le dicton selon lequel nul n'est prophète chez soi, c'est bien Khaira Arby. Le cercle de ses fans à la façon d'ondes parties de Tombouctou à l'allure du son de sa musique, a fini par atteindre tous le pays, s'étend de plus en plus dans les pays limitrophes du nôtre et scrutent même des horizons plus éloignés. Et, pourtant, cette merveille de la musique malienne du nord du Mali, dont le talent s'est révélé très tôt, a dû batailler dur pour faire ce qu'elle avait envie de faire.

La première résistance fut paternelle et la seconde maritale, mais, rien n'y fit : Khaira Arby était prédestinée à chanter et à bien chanter pour faire danser des fans dans la cité mystérieuses de Tombouctou. Née dans le village d'Agouni à quelques encablures de Tombouctou dans le Sahara, d'une mère songhaï et d'un père berbère, Khaira Arby, malgré son talent n'a pas eu la tâche facile. C'est écolière que cette artiste a annoncé les couleurs. Son premier prix dans le domaine de la chanson a été remporté lorsqu'elle était encore écolière. Et ce prix l'a propulsé sur la scène régionale. Elle aura le privilège de représenter Tombouctou, à la phase régionale de la biennale à Gao, à l'époque où la cité des 333 saints faisait encore partie de la région de Gao.

Khaira Arby, le rossignol du Nord, ambassadrice de Tombouctou sa région

Résistance familiale

Pour convaincre son père afin qu'il accepte que sa fille fasse le déplacement de Gao, il a fallu une débauche d'énergie des responsables de la troupe de Tombouctou. Mais, cela n'a pas été peine perdue, parce que la jeune Khaira Arby allait s'arroger la première place du solo de chant à Gao. Et elle va confirmer son talent à la phase nationale, en s'offrant le luxe de revenir à Tombouctou avec le premier prix du solo de chant. A onze ans, ce prix devait lui donner la possibilité d'accompagner une délégation culturelle et artistique malienne en Tunisie.

Mais, son père hostile de voir sa fille faire la musique, s'oppose à l'idée de la voir partir si loin. Et trois ans après, elle se voit mariée à l'âge de 14 ans. Déjà piqué par le virus de la musique, elle va pendant huit ans subir l'interdiction formelle de son époux de la voir chanter. Mais, huit ans après, elle va recouvrer sa totale liberté suite à un divorce. Et, quelques temps après, elle met à contribution l'orchestre régional de Tombouctou pour son premier album. De Tombouctou, Khaira Arby va rallier Bamako où elle va rejoindre le «Badema», célèbre orchestre de la ville des trois caïmans. Ce fût une belle époque pour la chanteuse qui gagnera en confiance en se frottant à des talents comme Feu Ali Farka Touré et Fissa Maïga.

Et depuis, plus de repos. Même si l'artiste se balade un peu partout au Mali, en Afrique et de plus en plus en occident, elle a volontairement choisi de faire de Tombouctou sa base, comme pour dire que celui qui a besoin de voir Khaira Arby confondre sa voix avec le bruissement des vents du désert, doit se rendre dans la ville des 333 saints. Cette voix qui fait danser toute la région de Tombouctou et une bonne partie de celle de Gao, a vu son mérite récompensé en 2006 par la médaille de chevalier de l'ordre national du Mali.


"Unreleased Ali Farka Toure and Khaira Arby"

In 1990, after working for a time in Bamako with Harouna Barry and the 'Orchestre Badema Nationale', Khaira released her first cassette 'Moulaye'. Three years later, she released 'Hala', recorded with her own group, and then in 2002, released her masterpiece 'Ya Rassoul', which in my opinion is one of the best Malian cassettes of the last decade. Khaira, who still lives in Tomboctou, has been very busy over the last few months. In early February, she was invited to Bamako's Studio Bogolan to record three tracks with the American group 'Sway Machinery', and later in the month was back in the same studio, this time with her own group from Tomboctou, laying down the tracks for her upcoming international debut. And, according to her producer, Khaira's North American fans can look forward to the 'Nightingale of Tomboctou' making her US debut sometime in the fall of 2010. - Voice of America, Matthew LaVoie


MOULAYE, cassette released 1990 in Mali
HALA, cassette released 1993 in Mali
YA RASSOUL, cassette released 2002 in Mali; cd released in 2004 in Mali
TIMBUKTU TARAB, released August 2010 in North America on the Clermont Music label and in Mali
also can find streaming concerts at NPR:
and also at:



Khaira Arby was born in Abaradjou, a neighborhood in cosmopolitan Timbuktu. She sings in several languages sometimes within the same song. The instrumentation and rhythms are just as varied with electric guitar and bass, calabasse, ngoni, traditional violin, and percussion, all creating a complex, interweaving mixture of sound and structure. Some people compare the effect to the rhythms of the camel caravans crossing the Sahara. It is the desert blues/rock and roll of contemporary Mali.

To no one's surprise, Khaira won her first singing contest while just a schoolgirl. By the age of 22 she was singing with the Orchestre Regional de Tombouctou. It wasn't long before she was invited to sing with the famous Orchestre Badema in Bamako. She learned her craft beside such Malian superstars as her cousin, Ali Farka Toure and the widely influential Fissa Maiga. Since the 1980's, Khaira has focused all her energies on her music. In 2011 she received the coveted Tamani Award from the Malian Society of Musicians {their Grammy} as one of the greatest artists of the past 50 years.

While her music rooted in the traditions of Northern Mali, Khaira surrounds herself with young musicians from Timbuktu influenced by the contemporary world and western R&B and rock and roll. The listener is taken on a complex audio journey across the desert to the essence of today's Timbuktu. She sings about love, war, family and the lives of women. She expresses her pride in the history and struggles of her desert homeland and its people.

In 2006 Khaira Arby was named a Chevalier de l'Ordre National du Mali. In 2010 she made her first North American tour and won the hearts of many. In 2011 she toured widely in the US and Canada where she played at SXSW, Festival International de Jazz Montreal and many other major venues. in April 2011, she performed at WOMAD Abu Dhabi and followed that up with performances atin the UK in July 2011. In May 2011 she was invited to perform at the ATP Festival in Minehead UK and brought the house down. She toured in Europe and the UK in the summer of 2011 performing at the SFINKS Festival in Belgium, Wood Festival in the UK, Africa Oye in Liverpool, and the Oya Festival in Oslo.

In late spring 2012 she again toured the US appearing at Festival International Lafayette LA, Joshua Tree CA, Bonnaroo TN, and more.

She continues to work and has performed in Berlin, Tunis and other countries while moving to Bamako as a result of the political instability in Northern Mali.