Trio Da Kali brought a taste of Mali to the British Library with their unique blend of griot-soul.
Trio Da Kali are Malian power group who hail from the Mandé culture in the southern region of the country. Trio Da Kali are essentially Malian musical royalty with all members having familial links to African music legends in their respective fields. Singer Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté is the daughter of one of the pioneers of griot-soul and pillars of West African music- Kasse Mady Diabaté. Similarly, Mamadou Kouyaté the ngoni player (a West African lute) is the son of world renowned ngoni musician Bassekou Kouyaté. Balafon player (West African xylophone) Lassana Diabaté completes the trio.
The crowd was small and intimate and the stage positively minute. Trio Da Kali were coming off the stage both literally and figuratively. I couldn’t help but think that the British Library surely would have given such musical legends a bigger space to work with. The Trio kicked off their set with Hawa cementing her presence on the stage with a solo acapella set. Hawa’s powerful and emotionally charged vocals warmed every crevice in the room, Hawa’s cheerful disposition made you feel as if she was a cool auntie, but her heart-wrenching riffs let you know that you were in the presence of a superstar.
Hawa’s vocal ability is far more advanced than her powerful held notes, I found her best vocal moments during the show to be when she and Kouyaté playfully interweaved each other, her whole vocal repertoire of her scales were showcased against the soft dulcet tones of the ngoni. Hawa’s virtuosity was also exemplified when she did a call and response section with Lassana Diabaté’s balafon. Hawa matched the highest and lowest notes of the balafon with ease. Although there was a language barrier in their performance, you could tell from the captured and engaged audience that emotions were being conveyed. Here Trio Da Kali proved- a note is worth a thousand words! For me Trio Da Kali’s set took me through all the various stages of life; birth; celebration; love; death.
The musical festivities turned into a poetic storytelling in the second half of the show. Cherif Keita, (Professor of French and Francophone cultures, Carleton College, Minnesota) joined Trio Da Kali for a griot telling of the epic story of Sundiata, the ruler of the Malian Empire in the 13th century. The story was told as an epic poem and recounted the tale of Sundiata Keita, the sickly child of a Mandinka warrior, who grew up to defeat a brutal oppressor and unify his people — bringing a long peace to a large Empire. Personally, the poem dragged on too long for my liking and I felt the storytelling could have done with some theatrical aids or more participants. Nevertheless, it was a nice cultural touch and educated us about African history outside the confines of slavery.
It is commonly known that the griot tradition was the predecessor and the root of modern hip hop. However, the crowd that you would normally find in London’s hip hop nights were all but missing from Trio Da Kali’s performance. It is a great shame as many hip hop fans could have gained more knowledge of self, (one of the key aims of the hip hop movement). Additionally they could have been able to draw links between this traditional African performance and more modern African descended music (R&B, hip hop, jazz, reggae, afrobeats etc). The event was very accessible; at £6 for a 2 hour set it was a bargain. It is a shame that traditional African music is not valued in the Western world, even amongst the Diaspora. Without traditional African music we would not have 95% of popular music genres, and that fact needs to be respected. I think if young people got rid of their Western biases, there would have been a lot pleasure and lessons to take out of this performance.
It will be interesting to see if there is a bigger turnout within the younger crowd at upcoming ‘Late at the Library’ event- Ghana Beats, where there will be Western black music such as; reggae, hip hop and afrobeats.
Overall this night thrived on its intimacy and its uniqueness and I truly believe that Trio Da Kali brought a taste of Mali to London for a night.
Learn more about the history of The Griots from our knowledge session here.
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