Search The Line of Best Fit
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Devendra Banhart & Rokia Traoré – Barbican Centre, London 02/05/14

07 May 2014, 16:00 | Written by Sarah Joy

When a label has as wide and as varied an appeal as Nonesuch Records, there’s little knowing what exactly could happen at their 50th anniversary celebrations taking place at London’s Barbican over the next month.

What started in early sixties New York has undoubtedly grown into one of the best tastemakers for world music, and their eclectic nurturing has turfed up a unique roster featuring the likes of Bjork, Brian Eno and Joni Mitchell amongst more obscure acts such as Kronos Quartet, New York City Ballet Orchestra and Natalie Merchant.

To open the ‘Explorations: The Sound of Nonesuch Records’ series, which will see numerous acts perform to mark the half-century milestone, the label brought together two of its latest international artists in the awkwardly charming American via Venezuelan Devendra Banhart and Malian powerhouse Rokia Traoré.

Perhaps an unlikely pairing musically and visually, it’s a typical move from a label with no agenda besides good wholesome music. It felt that within the slightly chaotic mixture of curious electronic folk and African funk rock, there was a defiance to follow genre, which has long been a feature of the label’s historic back catalogue.

As the slower paced and slightly more rambling, Devendra Banhart opened proceedings with his new science teacher makeover that was made complete with sleeveless vest jumper. In appearance, he is a very different Banhart to how many will remember him from the hairy hippie days but despite the dramatic clean up; he remains the same singer-songwriter looking for meaning via his whimsically woven stories.

Unusually, he struck a lone figure on the vast stage with just an electric guitar for company. Without the direction a band clearly affords him, he is entirely less focused when solo. Nervous little outbursts of eccentric observation peppered the breaks between simpler versions of “Golden” and “Carmencita”.

At one point, he begins to tell a story about how Nonesuch Records’ name came to be but breaks off when he can’t remember the ending. Not to everyone’s taste granted, but to those who adore the outlooks only he can convey, it was an endearing opening.

On their own, songs such as the childlike “Little Yellow Spider”, the aching “Body Breaks” and nostalgic “Won’t You Come” were given a naive quality that surprisingly held strong in the large space. His constant bouncing between Spanish and English added further offbeat dimensions to his set and allowed the launch gig to feel intimate, like all good birthdays should.

At the point in which parties inevitably eek into needing dancing though, Rokia Traoré and her full band fully obliged in upping the tempo. Laced with African beats and incredibly powerful vocals, she is an act that has structure worlds apart from Banhart’s.

Slick but by no means less heartfelt, French lyrics needed little translation as Traoré’s emotive delivery quite often said it all. By the midpoint “Sikey” few were left in their seats, as Traoré’s dancing was infectious as her harmonies.

Playing out with the encore of “Tuit Tuit”, “N’Teri” and a solo dance off between the backing singers, Devendra Banhart’s earlier statement that the audience were in for a “serious celebration” with Traoré became truth.



Never Seen
Bad Girl
Won’t You Come


La Moun Ke’
Beautiful Africa
Tuit Tuit

Photo by Anika Mottershaw from Devendra Banhart’s performance at the Barbican in July 2013. See the full gallery here.

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