Review: Trio Da Kali, Griots in the Library (@britishlibrary)


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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Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Maya is an aspir­ing writer and revolu­tion­ary whose heart and soul can be found in the Glob­al South. Hav­ing become edit­or of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a ped­ago­gic­al tool for the oppressed and help­ing fel­low young people into the media industry. Cur­rently a stu­dent, men­tal health work­er and arts facil­it­at­or- Maya brings both her aca­dem­ic and street know­ledge to pro­jects pro­duced by No Bounds.

About Maya Rattrey

Maya Rattrey
Maya is an aspiring writer and revolutionary whose heart and soul can be found in the Global South. Having become editor of I Am Hip-Hop Magazine at the age of 17, she is keen on using hip hop as a pedagogical tool for the oppressed and helping fellow young people into the media industry. Currently a student, mental health worker and arts facilitator- Maya brings both her academic and street knowledge to projects produced by No Bounds.

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