Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba

October 23rd, 2014

The 2014 Earshot Jazz Festival continues and last Thursday presented Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba at the Triple Door.

Master of the West African ngoni, a forerunner of the banjo and guitar, Bassekou Kouyate has graced the recordings of countless Malian musicians, from Ali Farka Toure to Oumou Sangare. With his band Ngoni Ba, he released a power-packed masterpiece, I Speak Fula, on Seattle’s SubPop label.

An ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa, the ngoni is the key instrument for the griot culture. Unlike the kora, whose history goes back only a few hundred years, the ngoni has been the main instrument in griot storytelling going back to the 13th century during the days of Soundiata Keita, the founder of the Mali Empire. The repertoire Kouyate plays is Bambara music from the region of Segu. Bambara music is pentatonic in nature and as close to the blues as you can get in Africa.

Kouyate was born in a village called Garana, almost 40 miles from Segu, in the remote
 countryside on 
the banks of the
 Niger River. He
 was raised in a
 traditional mu
sical environment, his mother a praise singer
 and his father
 and brothers exceptional
 ngoni players.
 He moved to
 Bamako when 
he was 19 years
 old, where he
 met the young 
Toumani Diabate. By the late 1980s Kouyate was part of Diabate’s trio, and they recorded their first albums together, Songhai and Djelika.

In 1996, Kouyate married the singer Amy Sacko (the “Tina Turner of Mali”), and they have been in high demand for the traditional wedding parties that happen in the streets of Bamako. After many years of being a sideman to many musicians both in Mali and globally, Kouyate has now put together his own band, Ngoni Ba (“the big ngoni”), Mali’s first ngoni quartet.

Here is a link to the 2014 Earshot Jazz Festival Schedule





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