Trio Da Kali are griots from the Mande culture is southern Mali, a landlocked country in West Africa, brought together as a “supergroup” to promote the traditions of their culture. The Trio will perform at the Red Light Cafe on Sept. 27.
The word griot is hard to define precisely in English. Griots are historians, storytellers, poets, troubadours, archivists and praise singers. They are born into families of griots and each family is connected to a local chief or to high ranking royalty. The tradition began in the 14th century in the Mali Empire under the legendary Sundiata Keita. The griots who served him and preserved his history founded a lineage that continues to the present.
Trio Da Kali take their name from the phrase “to make a pledge.” This refers to the relationship of griots to the traditional rulers of Mali. They made a pledge to be everything from press secretary to funeral orator. They accompanied their stories with musical instruments and sang the history of their people. These contemporary griots go a step further and make a pledge to preserve their culture in a rapidly changing world.
Fodé Lassana Diabaté, musical director of the group, is a balafon (wooden xylophone player) from Guinea. He is recognized as a master of his instrument. Diabaté began playing at age 5 following in the footsteps of his father, another balafon virtuoso, and studied with some of the masters of his instrument. Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate is one of Mali’s most esteemed female vocalists and is the daughter of Mali’s most famous male singer, Kasse Mady Diabate. She has been compared to the American gospel singer Mahalia Jackson because of the power of her vocals. Mamadou Kouyate plays the bass ngoni. Like his trio mates, he comes from a distingushed musical family and is the son of Mali’s foremost ngoni player Bassekou Kouyate. He is also part of the hip hop scene in Mali’s capital, Bamako.
The trio have a new recording with the Kronos Quartet titled “Ladikan.” They will be performing their traditional repertoire at Red Light Cafe with Derek Gripper’s African Strings Project. For tickets and information, visit redlightcafe.com.
Franklin Abbott’s new album is called Don’t Go Back To Sleep: New Songs and Selected Poems.