"His reputation as a guitar player has become almost mythical, combining rock and classical techniques with Malian tunings that make the guitar sound like a kora or ngoni."-New York Times
"The biggest pop star of the West African nation of Mali."-Rolling Stone
"...in his case, the unfamiliarity of the language was no problem, largely because of his communicative manner-kneeling down at the stage edge to interact with the crowd-dancing in unison with his musicians-made such a clear, nonverbal connection with his listeners."-Los AngelesTimes
With more than a quarter of a million albums sold around the globe, an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, a duet with Bonnie Raitt on her album Silver Lining, and nearly a thousand concerts on some of the world's most prestigious stages, Habib Koité is one of Africa's most popular and recognized musicians. Koité has gained a strong fan base by integrating the rock and folk sounds of the Western world without watering down his cherished Malian roots.
Called "Mali's biggest pop star" by Rolling Stone (in an article in which Bonnie Raitt compared Habib to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn), Koité has also received raves from People, Entertainment Weekly, and the New York Times.
Habib Koité was born in 1958 in Thiès, a Senegalese town situated on the railway line connecting Dakar to Niger, where his father worked on constructing the tracks. He descends from a line of griots, traditional African troubadours. Koité grew up surrounded by seventeen brothers and sisters, and developed his unique guitar style accompanying his griot mother. He inherited his passion for music from his paternal grandfather, who played the kamele n'goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters from the Wassolou region of Mali.
"Nobody really taught me to sing or to play the guitar," explains Koité. "I watched my parents, and it washed off on me." Habib was headed for a career as an engineer, but on the insistence of his uncle, who recognized his musical talent, he enrolled at the National Institute of Arts (INA) in Bamako, Mali. After only six months, he was made conductor of the school's prestigious band...
Koité takes some unique approaches to playing the guitar. He tunes his instrument to the pentatonic scale and plays on open strings as on a kamale n'goni. At other times Koité plays music that sounds closer to the blues or flamenco. His singing style is restrained and intimate with varying cadenced rhythms and melodies. Koité is unique because he brings together different styles, creating a new pan-Malian approach that reflects his open-minded interest in all types of music.
"I'm curious about all the music in the world, but I make music from Mali," explains Koité. "In my country, we have so many beautiful rhythms and melodies. Many villages and communities have their own kind of music. Usually, Malian musicians play only their own ethnic music, but me, I go everywhere. My job is to take all these traditions and to make something with them, to use them in my music."
In 1988, Habib formed his own group, Bamada (a nickname for residents of the Malian capital of Bamako that roughly translates "in the mouth of the crocodile") with musicians who had been friends since childhood. His band became a fixture on the European festival circuit and began to spread his infectious music and high energy shows around the world. Habib has played at most of Europe's major venues and festivals, including the Montreaux Jazz Festival, WOMAD, and the World Roots Festival. He toured with the legendary avant-garde jazz group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Koité's second album, Ma Ya, spent an amazing three months at the top spot on the World Charts Europe. Ma Ya was released in North America by Putumayo World Music in early 1999 and quickly established Koité as one of world music's most exciting new figures.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Nourse Theater, San Francisco
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photos courtesy of Dirk Leunis This event is sponsored in part by a grant from the