Habib Koité of Mali, currently on a U.S. tour with his band Bambada, will perform Saturday, March 1
Habib Koité of Mali, currently on a U.S. tour with his band Bambada, will perform Saturday, March 1 at the Marion Cultural and Civic Center.
Habib is a fascinating, world-renowned guitarist. He began learning to play music at an early age by listening to his parents and family. Habib comes from a line of noble, traditional, Khassonké griot singers and players. He told Nightlife that griots come from a caste, or special group. In Mali the griots are known as Koité, and the Koité griots are versed in the musical style and tradition native to the Malian culture of West Africa.
Habib formed Bambada in 1988. Their track "Nanalé" won the Radio France International Discoveries Prize, which landed the group their first overseas tour. Since then they arguably have become the most internationally well-known and well-traveled group from Mali. They have eight albums available in the States, the most recent of which, Soo, has just been released. The album should be available at the March 1 performance as well as through local record stores.
Although Habib was steeped in the griot style of Mali, his music takes snippets of technique and flavor from countless worldwide musical influences.
This makes the music of Habib Koité and Bambada accessible— it speaks on a human level. It is uplifting, peaceful, and no doubt groovy. Get on your computer and delve at <http://www.HabibKoite.com>.
For tickets, call (618) 997-4030 or visit <http://www.MarionCCC.org>.
Nightlife spoke with Habib Koité and learned a bit more about his history, musical style, and personality, and here’s how it went:
How is the tour going? Where are you now? Do you like it there?
I'm really happy because we get everywhere an amazing welcome from the public. And we begin with California, where we have a lot of fans, a lot of friends. I feel good in this area.
I feel a real enthusiasm. Several friends confess how great is the new version— new band and new tracks— more acoustic— no more drum kit.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got started playing music?
Nobody really taught me to sing or to play the guitar. I watched my parents, and it washed off on me. I come from a noble line of Khassonké griots, traditional troubadours who provide wit, wisdom, and musical entertainment at social gatherings and special events. I grew up surrounded by seventeen brothers and sisters, and developed a unique guitar style accompanying my griot mother. I inherited my passion for music from my paternal grandfather who played the kamele n’goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters from the Wassoulou region of Mali.
And then, even if my parents were not so enthusiastic, I went to the Institute of Arts in Bamako [in Mali] to learn more about music.
Did you ever think you would be touring around the world?
Hmm... difficult to answer because I should go back twenty years in the past.... But for sure, at the begin[ning], I played music for the pleasure to play, to do that with friends of mine I played first with friends, in private areas [for family and friends], and little by little, I played in clubs in Bamako, and then out of the city. Some people were speaking about us, we went out of Mali and meet some people, and here I am.
Do you have a favorite country to perform in?
First of all, I like to play in my country, Mali. I like to play for my family, my friends. It's important for me to play around all those people and get their warm[th]. Out of Mali, I have a preference for California, where I feel a bit like at home thanks to all the fans and friends I can meet there.
You music has a very peaceful and healing sound. Is this part of the message?
Maybe my person is peaceful. I just want to have a peaceful life, and it's what I wish to all the people around me.
What are some of the main themes of your lyrics?
Social life, society and daily life, politics, love, environment
You come from a line of griot singers? What is a griot exactly?
Griot is coming from a caste, special group. In Mali and Mandinguo areas, the griot is coming from the family Koité, Diabaté, Soumaro, and the more noble are the Koité. We say in Mali, if you want to be a griot, change your name and become a Koité.
The griot knows the story of the Mandinguo history, the genealogy, the story of all the populations— princes, kings. They know how to speak to the important people, they know the protocol in the special events of the daily life. They do speeches in case of death, birth, marriage. They know all the stories of each member of families, they can speak peacefully in several events like a death... to bring serenity in the family. They were and they are still in charge of important people. They get money for their social work. They take care of people. They are paid for that. They are people who never have troubles to survive, for the daily life, like many other people.
Which traditional style is your original music most influenced by?
I made some research about classical music and from the beginning I play guitar like traditional instruments. Since I was young, I played musics from all around Mali and from all around the world as well— music from U.S., Europe, Africa. So I got influences of many kind of musics, and for sure what I play is not only Malian music.
I take advantage of all the richness of the musics I heard... but keeping at the same time a foot in my Malian roots, because the point of departure is my Malian identity and my imagination with influences around.
Another point is the fact I play several rhythms from different Malian [ethnicities]. I'm trying to keep the essence, the key of the ethnic rhythms, and each person coming from several parts of Mali can recognize what I do play.
What is the message of your original music?
First of all, I want to show to Malian people that we have... such richness in our country. Many nice stuff in the tradition, but as the same time I try to open with other directions. I show a kind of evaluated version of Mali in my music.
One foot in the past, one foot to the future.
I'm using many rhythms together from several micro cultures, making an unique music. Wishing bring all the people together thanks to music.
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians?
Hmmm... how am I to give advice? I don't have any pretension to give comments.
Play, have fun playing music, and work, again and again, without any idea about the money you can win with music. Just think about music and don't fix any planning, plans of budget, of career. Reality of the musician is different. Just do it!
Who is your favorite American bands/groups dead or alive?
Dire Straits— I was listening a lot and I played as well in clubs.
who: Habib Koité
where: Marion Cultural and Civic Center
when: Saturday, March 1