Festival of Mali in New York
Few countries on the African continent, or the world over, have a richer musical tradition than Mali.
Almost completely swallowed by the Sahara desert, the dry, landlocked West African nation doesn’t appear to be a fertile hotbed for music (though it is hot). And yet, since well before the introduction of written histories and colonial borders, the Malians have intertwined music and culture to the point that the two are inseparable.
In the West, Malian music is most associated with the desert blues of Ali Farka Touré and Tinariwen, the afropop of Salif Keita and Amadou & Mariam, and the kora player Toumani Diabate – just to mention a few.
For those of you interested in the music of Mali, and being fortunate to live around New York City, the Festival of Mali this weekend is a great opportunity to catch up on some of the country’s prime artists.
World Music Institute and Brooklyn Bowl present a three night Festival of Mali in April, kicking it all off this Saturday. Read more about the excellent artists below, get your concert tix here – and make sure to listen to the accompanying playlists including an overview of Mali music, a guest lists from Fatoumata Diawara and Trio Da Kali.
Saturday, April 14
Sidi Touré, a highly acclaimed practitioner of Songhaï Music, first emerged on the international scene in 2011 with his signature blues-inflected guitar playing when he released Sahel Folk, and toured North America for the first time. His plaintive vocal melismatic Songhaï folk music carries melodic and repertory characteristics that extend from Ibrahim Dicko, Sidi’s mentor, to Ali Farka Touré’s pioneering work.
Sidi’s music is steeped in Malian culture and traditions. The winner of two Malian national awards for best singer, Sidi also led Gao’s regional orchestra, The Songhaï Stars. In Toubalbero, his new release which came out March 23, Sidi creates a danceable, dynamic and joyous album that is an exuberant and irresistible call for unity and peace for Malians and Africans.
Sunday, April 15
Trio Da Kali
Da Kali means ‘to give a pledge’—in this case to a musical heritage that dates back to the time of Sunjata Keita, founder of the great Mali empire in the early 13th century. Trio Da Kali’s line-up of balafon (xylophone) bass ngoni (lute) and female singer is also based on ancient tradition, although the trio format and its repertoire is now an endangered species in contemporary Malian music.
All three Da Kali members come from celebrated hereditary musical families, and were brought together as a griot ‘super-group’ by Dr. Lucy Duran on behalf of the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI), which has an admirable track-record of commissioning and producing a variety of projects involving traditional musicians. Balafon player Diabaté was a long-time member of Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra and has recorded with Salif Keita, Taj Mahal and many others. A musician of great subtlety and invention he has honed a virtuosic two-balafon technique to perfection. Bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté is the eldest son of the instrument’s greatest exponent Bassekou Kouyaté, and he holds down the groove in his father’s band Ngoni ba. He is also involved in the thriving Bamako hip-hop scene. Singer Hawa ‘Kassé Mady’ Diabate is the daughter of Mali’s greatest traditional singer, Kassé Mady Diabate, and the power, range and phrasing of her voice led Harrington to compare her to the late queen of American gospel Mahalia Jackson.
Monday, April 16
Born in Côte d’Ivoire to Malian parents, Fatoumata Diawara moved to France to pursue acting. She later took up the guitar and began composing her own material, writing songs that blend Wassalou traditions of Southern Mali with international influences.
Noted for her sensuous voice, she has performed or recorded with Malian and international greats such as Cheick Tidiane Seck, Oumou Sangaré, AfroCubism, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roberto Fonseca, Mayra Andrade and Omara Portuondo. In 2011, she released her debut album, Fatou, for which she composed and arranged all songs, as well as played guitar, percussion, bass, vocals and harmony vocals.
Fatoumata has spent the recent years touring the world to great critical acclaim. Her recent featured role in the documentary Mali Blues by filmmaker Luz Gregor has brought her music and her plight to even greater audiences worldwide. May 18, 2018 marks the release of her second solo full-length album Fenfo (which translates as “Something to Say”).
Brooklyn Bowl is located on 61 Wythe Ave, Brooklyn.
Artist description is provided by WMI.
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