Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba Come to the Skirball Cultural Center—Thursday, July 30

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Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba is authentic traditional Malian music at its best. Continuing a dynastic line of griot musicians, this exceptional family group has performed together for decades. This Thursday, July 30, the Skirball Cultural Center brings these artists to Los Angeles as part of their summer Sunset Concert series, which you won’t want to miss.

This group is one of my favorite bands from a stable of incredible Malian musicians: the late bluesman Ali Farka Touré, the plaintive Boubacar Traoré, Toumani Diabaté, singers Rokia Traoré, and Wassoulou female singers from Southern Mali such as Oumou Sangaré, Nahawa Doumbia, Kandia Kouyaté and others.

A friend of mine once said that she loves Malian music because “it gives [her] courage.” I love that, and it’s true.

Bassekou Kouyaté is particularly noteworthy because he has revitalized the ngoni, a Malian plucked lute, the earliest dating back to 1352. Raised within the Bambara griot music tradition, Bassekou has modernized the ngoni sound and mainstreamed the instrument for successive generations of Malians. He says, “We are a new generation now. I can’t just do what my father and grandfather did.” By developing new stylistic techniques for this vibrant instrument and collaborating with artists from other genres, like Bono and Youssou N’Dour, Bassekou has brought his instrument to the forefront of the world music stage.

I love Ngoni Ba’s embrace of their instrument, which happens to be the ancestor of the banjo (the word banjo is a Congolese word, attesting to its African origins). If you listen to American banjo player Béla Fleck’s Throw Down Your Heart, recorded in Mali with Malian ngoni musicians, you’ll hear that American music like blues and rock ‘n’ roll has its roots in West Africa.

<!-- missing image -->I have to say that I also love African clothing—just look at Bassekou’s beautiful blue caftan. Sure looks nicer and cooler (in both senses of the word) than a western business suit. I actually have several traditional Malian bògòlanfini (mud cloth) in my home. (Designers and decorators, take note: mud cloth complements any modern decor, though not traditional or Laura Ashley interiors.)

Whereas many Malian musicians have switched to guitars, Bassekou sticks with the ngoni sound. Together with his family members on multiple ngonis, Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba promise to deliver their massive modal groove that will surely get the Skirball crowd moving this Thursday, July 30. I’ll be deejaying an opening set from 7:00–8:15 PM, after which the band perform their free, outdoor Sunset Concert onstage. And, for anyone wondering, there IS a dance area. I love this band and am looking forward to it. Who could ask for more on a midsummer L.A. night? Click here for further details.

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba are on tour, so you should check to see if they’ll be coming to your city.

OMG. This is truly massive!

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