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Titled "Voices of Mali," Nov. 2's unprecedented African road-show at Duke bookends Oumou Sangare and Habib Koite (pictured), world-class troubadours whose vibrant pop veers from jumping virtuosity to the defiant tones of protest music.

A singer unlike any other, Madame Sangare is a flamboyant diva. She dresses the part, often sporting cascades of braids, spangled headgear and flowing robes splashed with bright colors. But it's that voice which matters, floating like an acrobatic butterfly, then--a la Ali---finishing things off with proverbial sting.

And there's an urgent message attached to her potent pipes. Since achieving pan-African star-status at the tender age of 21, Sangare has crusaded for women's rights with a repertoire of barbed original tunes often aimed at the male-dominated Muslim ways of her mother country.

Here's how Sangare explained one of her anthems, "Tiebaw" ("Big Men"), to The Boston Phoenix: "I say a lot of things about men. Before, I used to attack them gently, indirectly. But here it's direct. They're going to feel it."

Choosing among records available in the United States, aficionados of worldbeat can prep for Sangare's Duke date with Worotan (World Circuit/Nonesuch CD), a groove-conscious affair bolstered by the tart horn-charts of James Brown's fave arranger, Pee Wee Ellis.

Opening in Durham will be griot Habib Koite and his band, Bamada (translation: "in the mouth of the crocodile"). Pushed by the chart-success of Ma Ya (Putumayo CD) last year, Koite's fiery guitar has become a sensation among 6-stringers around the world. Like masters of the kora, the well-known African harp, Koite plucks the strings in hypnotically repeating patterns, then gradually stacks more and more tasty notes on top. The 42-year-old picker niftily spices up the brew with other flavors like Spanish flamenco and jazz, American style.

So perk up your ears on Nov. 2. What you'll undoubtedly hear is the sound of Malian music going global.

More by Joe Vanderford

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