Khaira Arby brings music from Mali to IC

BY JULIA JESSEN | MAY 10, 2012 6:30 AM

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Khaira Arby's music is a fusion of styles, mixing traditional Malian sounds with the vibrant energy and youth of today.

"What inspires my music is that it comes from the sounds and the music of Mali that's around me," Arby said in an interview translated by her manager, Chris Nolan. "What I sing about in my music is peace, the rights of women, the rights of girls to go to school, and be educated, and advance in society, and things of that nature."

Arby will perform at 8 p.m. Friday as part of the Intimate at the Englert Series at the Englert Theater, 221 E. Washington St.

The powerful singer comes from a small village near the city of Timbuktu, Mali. There is a civil war in the area, and women and children are often victims in the strife. Arby's music communicates political messages relating to the conflict as well as advocating for women's rights.

"The women where I'm living have had their rights diminished, and they have to fight to be able to get to equality with men," she said.

University of Iowa Associate Professor Lyombe Eko said Arby is one among the first generation of African female musicians.

"Her underlying style is the African call-and-response method," he said. "She captivates her audiences by drawing on traditional African rhythms and styles that include the praise singing of the griot [African minstrels and entertainers], songs of faith, and music about social relations."

Arby sings in a number of Malian languages. She said despite the language barrier, American audiences are very enthusiastic and connected with the music during performances.

"I understand that the people here don't understand what the lyrics are exactly saying, but I see them being inspired, and I want them to be inspired and uplifted by the rhythm of my voice and the music," she said.

Local band Bermuda Report will join Arby at the Englert and will also release its first full length CD, Bittersweet, at the show on Friday.

Abigail Sawyer, the band's vocalist and a University of Iowa alumna, described the group's style as indie pop and soul and said the musicians are excited about the event.

"We're looking forward to the setup with everybody being on stage and just sharing the evening with another cool band," she said.

Sawyer said Bermuda Report's music comes from the desire to create a new message.

"What inspires me is the desire to express something that is hard to express," she said. "It's like a creative challenge, and I find a way with a sound and with a word and with a composition with instruments to express something that before couldn't really be expressed."

The singer said Bermuda Report enjoys being part of the Iowa City music scene because it is intimate, yet diverse and inclusive.

"Even though it's a tight-knit community of musicians, people are always ready for something new and giving it a listen," Sawyer said. "It's a very welcoming and nurturing environment for creativity."

Both Sawyer and Arby said that music is extremely important in their lives because they are able to covey messages to audiences.

"The music is everything for me," Arby said.

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