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 Elese

Maya Elese

Edit­or / Author at No Bounds
Mul­ti­lin­gual Lon­don born, bred & based print & broad­cast journ­al­ist, presenter, DJ & cul­tur­al pro­du­cer with a par­tic­u­lar love for glob­al afro-dia­spor­ic cul­tures. @mayaelese on everyth­ang.

About Maya Elese

Maya Elese
Multilingual London born, bred & based print & broadcast journalist, presenter, DJ & cultural producer with a particular love for global afro-diasporic cultures. @mayaelese on everythang.

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