I’m not religious, but I am devoted to religious music. Bach’s sacred works, Burning Spear’s odes to Jah, the Sufi trances of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” — music inspired by a higher power often translates into sonic blessings.
On “Timbuktu Tarab,” Khaira Arby, above, sings praises to Mohammed (on the song “Salou”), but this Northern Malian bandleader is also concerned with earthly issues. In the fierce desert-blues style made popular by her cousin Ali Farka Toure, Arby wails for the plight of women in Mali (on “Waidio”) and against female circumcision (on “Feriene”). “Sourgou” makes a bold anti-colonialist statement, and “Youba” is a pro-laborer anthem.
When Arby takes the stage on May 2 at DC9 (1940 9th St. NW), listeners will hear her sing in several languages, and it’s likely that none of them will be English. But her blazing energy crosses linguistic barriers — as well as religious differences. Arby’s is a universal artistic power that is ultimately human, no matter the theistic outlet her creativity is plugged into.