Blues: Back to the Source, with Otis Taylor and Bassekou Kouyate at Barbican in London

Otis Taylor
Otis Taylor

London, UK – Two fascinating musical projects which explore the roots of the Blues from America to Africa as parf of Barbican’s Contemporary Music Programme Spring 2008. Blues: Back to the Source, with Otis Taylor and Bassekou Kouyate will take place Monday, 28 April at 8pm.

Award-winning blues banjoist Otis Taylor’s new live project and CD Recapturing the Banjo is a musical voyage which celebrates the one instrument to survive the Atlantic slave trade¬, the banjo, which thus become one of the most popular and distinctly American of instruments. Originally played by slaves who built banjos out of scrap materials in an attempt to recreate the West African ngoni ,  the banjo has gone on to play a pivotal role in jazz, blues, country and bluegrass.

This project re-unites the banjo with its African roots, with beautifully crafted, evocative music. Banjoist Otis Taylor was born in Chicago in 1948. His first band was the Butterscotch Fire Department Blues Band, but despite some success in the 1960s Taylor decided to leave the music business in the 1970s and it was only with some coaxing he returned to playing full time in 1995. His 1997 CD Blue Eyed Monster made waves in the Blues World; subsequently White African (2001) won him four WC Handy Awards and established him as an uncompromising presence on the international Blues scene and a talent to be watched. In 2007 Downbeat Magazine voted his Definition Of A Circle Best Blues album of the year in its 55th Annual Critics Poll.

Bassekou Kouyate has been described – by none other than Taj Mahal – as a genius. He is also held as living proof that one of the sources of the blues is his region of Segu in Mali. He has also championed the ngoni, the ancestor of the banjo – a stringed instrument with a hollowed-out, canoe-shaped piece of wood as a body (with dried animal skin stretched over it like a drum). Unlike the kora, whose history goes back only a few hundred years, the ngoni is believed to have been the main instrument for accompanying griot stories as far back as the reign of Soundiata Keita in the 12th Century .

Their debut album Segu Blue, produced by Lucy Duran, was recently declared winner of the Album of the Year Critics Award, part of the annual BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music. Bassekou was also nominated in two other categories of the Awards: Best African Act and Best Newcomer. Segu Blue is also one of Songlines magazine’s 10 Best Albums of 2007 and was listed in The Guardian’s 1000 Albums to Hear Before You Die (November 2007) and Observer Music Monthly’s best 50 albums of 2007.

Concert at the Barbican Hall, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS
Box Office: 0845 120 7550

Blues: Back to the Source, with Otis Taylor and Bassekou Kouyate
Produced by the Barbican
Tickets £10/15/20

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