In the late 1990s, Mali, West Africa was hit with a musical revolution. A young woman named Rokia Traore appeared on local TV playing a guitar, wearing long braids and singing songs of women’s empowerment.
This hour-long documentary Rokia: Voice of a New Generation, tells her story.
Rokia grew up the daughter of a diplomat and was raised in Africa, the Middle East and Europe. When she was high school-age student, her family returned to Mali to live for a short period before relocating again to Europe.
While in Bamako, Mali’s capital, it was a turbulent period. People were in the streets en masse calling for democratic reforms and an end to decades of dictatorship. The movement was energized by students; and their energy galvanized Rokia who decided to march in the streets with them.
Rokia: Voice of a New Generation is about how that political awakening helped Rokia find her voice and become a singer for women’s rights in conservative Mali.
Her lyrics speak out against polygamy and when men refused to work with her, she became her own arranger, songwriter and boss, all without knowing how to read or write music. She continued to break tradition by writing songs that included instruments from different tribes; leading Malians to view her with even more suspicion: Why go against tradition?
Living in so many places and breaking with tradition made it difficult for Rokia to fit in with her peers while growing up. She was too African for Europeans and too European for Africa.
As a result, these influences show up in her four albums, making Rokia one of the most innovative young singer-songwriters to emerge from West Africa in recent years.
Rokia: Voice of a New Generation includes exclusive access to Rokia, her songwriting and rehearsal process, explores her musical roots from her family’s village in Mali, and includes rare footage of her collaboration with the Grammy-winning avant-garde string quartet Kronos Quartet.
Rokia: Voice of a New Generation is ultimately about perseverance and how women who believe in themselves can control their own destiny.