MUSIC | Khaira Arby sings of women’s rights at the Global Roots Festival


Malian singer Khaira Arby begins every concert with a song called “Salou” that is an invocation, though she doesn’t stress the importance of a particular religion. The spiritual singer, who is on tour in North America for the first time after 20 years as a professional singer in her home country of Mali, believes it doesn’t matter the name you call God—whether it’s Jesus or Mohommed or some other name—matters. The important thing, she believes, is to live a good and spriritual life. “There is only one God, even though there are many religions,” she said in an interview.

Arby, who is cousin to well-known Malian musician Ali Farka Toure, will be performing at this year’s Global Roots Festival at the Cedar Cultural Center. The festival runs September 21-24, and Arby performs on Thursday the 23rd.

Arby was born in a village not far from Timbutku. From early in her life, Arby always loved music; she was drawn to singing, and worked very hard to establish herself as a female vocalist. She drew inspiration from Miriam Makeba, the singer and civil rights activist, who Arby calls “a determined revolutionary.”

Throughout her career, she has used her art to promote equality for women. This message can be seen in songs such as “Wayidou,” where she sings: “Happiness for women is gone. In these times we cannot speak of happiness and light. Why in a country of beautiful women do men go to war?” Though Arby said that musica has already made a change, “there is still a lot of work to be done.” Though women are allowed to vote in Mali, Arby wants to see more women in the legislature, and to increase the number of women voting. “I’m constantly reinforcing the message,” she said

One women’s rights issue that is important to Arby is female circumcision, which, though illegal, still happens around the world. “It occurs in some places with some families,” she said. Her song “Feriene” specifically takes on this issue.

When not making music, Arby runs a salt trading business, and has six children, and grandchildren.

You can purchase tickets to see Arby at the Cedar’s website, where you can also purchase tickets for the whole festival. The other artists include Wild Gypsy Brass band Mahala Rai Banda, North Indian rhythm Bhangra and brass funk hybrid band Red Baraat, the Basque txalaparta duo Oreka Tx, instrumental group Portico Quartet, indie supergroup the Sway Machinery, songwriter and cultural activist Meklit Hadero, and hip-hop star M.anifest.