Dembo Jobarteh was a member of a well know jeli family (known as Jobarteh in Gambia and Diabate in Mali). His father played the kora and his mother was a griot [jali] singer. Dembo was born in 1976 in Niani Kayai, The Gambia.
From an early age on he was taught to sing and play the kora, a harp lute. Later he also learned to drum and play bala. He spent a few years as a musician in Dakar, Senegal.
In 2001 he became the manager of Gambian Griot School of Music and Dance at Serekunda, The Gambia.
Dembo Jobarteh said. “For generations my family has held this profession. I myself started reciting stories when I was 9 years old. At that time I came to live with a marabu, a very wise and well-respected man. There I studied the Koran, music and worked in the groundnut and rice paddies. After three years I moved to another village and another job. Later I worked at a bakery. But no matter what I was doing, my musical training continued. I learned hundreds of songs and also studied the drums, balafon [bala] and singing.
Many people can learn to play the kora. But to play like a griot [jali] is a gift from God and, as we say in West Africa, also a gift from the devils. If they like you, they will teach you.
When I am alone at night I play this instrument especially for them. Life is there to enjoy. But to do so you need to be healthy. Therefore I advise people to take good care of their body and their mind and to forget about self-interest. If you share what you’ve got, you’ll improve your own life and that of others. Then you will truly enjoy life.
Yes, I like to tell people what is important in life. It is a family tradition. If I did not live according to tradition, I would miss the life that was meant for me.”
Dembo Jobarteh died on March 15, 2008 in Serekunda.
Kassé Mady Diabaté was one of West Africa’s greatest voices and one of the most cherished singers in Mali. He was known for his profound knowledge of Mali’s deepest oral and musical traditions and the beauty of his tenor voice.
He was born in 1949 in Kela, a renowned center of the Mande jeli tradition in western Mali, near Kangaba, one of the seats of the great Mali empire (1235-1469).
Kasse Mady’s family, the Diabates of Kela -all of whom are jelis- were the singers for the emperors and their descendants, the royal Keita lineage. And still today they are considered among the most important and authoritative jeli families across seven West African countries where Mande culture predominates.
Kasse Mady was the second person ever to be given the name Kasse Mady, which means ‘Weep Mady’ (Mady is a regional variant of Mohammed). His grandfather, also from Kela, was the first.
Mady, the grandfather, had such a beautiful voice that when he sang, he would move people to tears, therefore his nickname, ‘Kasse from Kassi,’ (to weep). Kasse Mady the younger was given this name at birth to honor the grandfather. But no one in the family could imagine that his voice would have the same power and ability to move people to extreme states of emotion.
While still a young boy, Kasse Mady began singing at local weddings and other ceremonies, and around 1970 he was invited to become the lead singer of the dance orchestra of the nearby town of Kangaba. This orchestra was called the Super Mande, a name his brother Lafia Diabate, also a well-known singer, now uses for his own band of Kela musicians who are based in Bamako and who are the principal musicians on the album Kassi Kasse.
The decade of 1970s was an important period in Mali because of the new Cultural Authenticity policies that was in place in the newly independent nation states of West Africa. In Mali, as elsewhere, musicians were encouraged to return to their own folklore instead of imitating rock or Cuban music. As it happened, Kasse Mady’s special blend of traditional Mande folklore with modern instruments was to play an important role in this movement.
Every two years, the Malian government sponsored a major festival call the Biennale, in which all the regional ensembles and dance orchestras competed with each other. In 1973, it was the Super Mande from Kangaba who won, thanks to the remarkable singing of Kasse Mady.
Not long before that, a group of eight musicians who had been studying music in Cuba had returned to Mali and formed the group Las Maravillas de Mali, famous for their charanga interpretations of Cuban classics. But according to the dictates of Cultural Authenticity, they had to begin to take on more of a Malian repertoire. After hearing Kasse Mady perform at the Biennale, they decided that he was the one to do this.
The musical director was sent down to Kela, 104 kms west of Bamako down a bumpy dirt road, to find the singer. After various ritual consultations with the family, who were (and still are) very protective of their traditions, Kasse Mady was allowed to go to join the band in Bamako. Soon after, the Maravillas began enjoying a tremendous success throughout West Africa with songs like ‘Balomina Mwanga’ and ‘Maimouna,’ all sung memorably by the young Kasse Mady in Cuban style, but with a new Mande touch.
Around 1976 the band renamed themselves National Badema du Mali (meaning national family of Mali). Kasse Mady launched this new lineup with several deep Mande songs that were to become hits, such as ‘Sindiya (later re-recorded by Ali Farka Toure as ‘Singya’ on his first World Circuit album) and ‘Fode’ that was also the title of Kasse’s first solo album in 1988. Other hits were ‘Nama,’ a song Kasse Mady composed about a true story of a canoe that overturned while crossing the river Niger on September 22 in which many people drowned and ‘Guede’ that he later re-recorded with american bluesman Taj Mahal.
By the mid 1980s, there was no longer much interest among Malian audiences in the old dance bands of the 1970s. The Rail Band was playing to ever decreasing audiences, and the Ambassadeurs, formerly led by singer Salif Keita, had disbanded.
So when Kasse Mady was invited to Paris to record his first solo album for Senegalese producer Ibrahima Sylla (of Africando fame), Kasse decided to try his luck. He left the national Badema and moved to Paris, where he spent the next ten years. During this period he recorded two solo albums, Fode, an electric dance album that was meant to be the answer to Salif Keita’s Soro but did not enjoy the same promotion; and Kela Tradition, an acoustic album of Kela jeli songs, both on the Paris label Syllart.
Also in this period, Kasse Mady collaborated in the album Songhai 2 with Spanish flamenco group Ketama and Malian kora player Toumani Diabate, with some stunning versions of classics such as ‘Mali Sajio,’ as well as, the beautiful ballad ‘Pozo del Deseo’ sung together with Ketama singer Antonio Carmona.
But things did not turn out as planned in Paris. Kasse Mady’s non-confrontational and peaceful character did not help him find his way through the labyrinth of royalty payments and contracts and the hard-nosed music business of Paris.
Exploited and disappointed, he returned to Bamako in 1998 where things began to look up for him. The music scene in Bamako had picked up considerably since he had left ten years before. For a start, there was now a new democratic government and a renewed interest among the youth in traditional music.
The kora player Toumani Diabate immediately recruited Kasse Mady for more collaboration after the successful work they had done together on Songhai 2. Kasse Mady was invited to take part in the acclaimed Kulanjan project with Taj Mahal. Taj was so moved by Kasse’s singing that he presented him with a beautiful steel-body guitar and now, having heard the new album Kassi Kasse, is so entranced by it that he takes it with him everywhere he goes on his extensive concert tours.
in 2010, Kasse Mady participated in the landmark Afrocubism project, a spectacular collaboration of musicians from Mali and Cuba. the lineup featured Eliades Ochoa, Bassekou Kouyate, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabaté, Grupo Patria, Kasse Mady Diabaté and Lassana Diabaté.
Contemporary Mandé griot act Trio Da Kali has announced its upcoming American tour. Trio Da Kali features Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté on vocals, Lassana Diabaté (of AfroCubism) on the bala and Mamadou Kouyaté (son of Bassekou Kouyaté) on the bass ngoni. The Trio recently performed in Spain at WOMEX 2016.
Trio Da Kali has been in the studio recording a new album with Kronos Quartet.
02.11.2016 – ArtsLIVE – University of Dayton, OH (USA)
04.11.2016 – Zellerbach Auditorium – University of California, Berkeley CA (USA)
06.11.2016 – Center for the Arts – Grass Valley, CA (USA)
09.11.2016 – Sanctuary for Independent Media – Troy NY (USA)
11.11.2016 – Goddard College – Plainfield VT (US)
12.11.2016 – Carnegie Hall-Zankel – New York NY (USA) with Derek Gripper
13.11.2016 – Calvary Center – Crossroads Music, Philadelphia, PA (USA)
Foday Musa Suso is an internationally recognized musician and a Manding griot from the West African nation of Gambia. Griots are the oral historians and musicians of the Manding people, who live in several West African nations.
Griots are a living library for the community, providing history, entertainment, and wisdom while playing and singing their songs. The history of empires and kingdoms, tribal conflicts, cultural heroes, and family lineage are all part of a griot’s traditional repertoire.
Foday is a direct descendant of Jali Madi Wlen Suso, the griot who invented the kora over four centuries ago. In 1977, he moved to Chicago and became the first kora player to establish himself in the United States. He formed The Mandingo Griot Society with 3 American musicians, playing a fusion of traditional and jazz that is now known as “world music”. Since 1977, he has performed as a soloist and with other musicians throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America.
Interested in both traditional and cutting-edge music, he has also written many original compositions, toured and recorded with many prominent musicians. Foday Musa Suso’s collaboration with Herbie Hancock began in 1984, when Bill Laswell introduced them and they co-wrote a composition for the Los Angeles Olympics entitled ‘Junku’ (‘Let’s Do It’). This song was included on the official Olympic album and on Herbie’s ‘Sound System‘ album. Herbie then invited Foday to join his band for a tour of the United States and Japan, where they co-wrote and recorded a duet album entitled ‘Village Life’.
In 1987, both Herbie’s and Foday’s bands joined forces to record ‘Jazz Africa’, a live concert which was released as a CD and video.
Foday also has a long history of collaboration and performance with renowned composer Philip Glass. In 1985 they co-wrote the soundtrack for the movie ‘Powaqqatsi’, and in 1990 co-wrote the music for a revival of the Jean Genet play ‘The Screens’.
In 2004 they collaborated on the music for ‘Orion’, a concert work commissioned by the Cultural Oympiad which premiered in Athens Greece preceding the Olympic Games. Since the early 1990’s, Foday and Philip have performed in concerts together at venues all over the world, including Carnegie Hall, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Barbican Center in London, and the Melbourne Arts Centre.
In addition, Foday has worked closely with the Kronos Quartet, an ensemble who commissioned him to compose five works. ‘Tillyboyo’ (Sunset) was released on their 1992 CD ‘Pieces of Africa‘. Foday and Kronos have performed together at venues such as Lincoln Center in New York, Staatsoper Opera House in Vienna, and the Royal Festival Hall in London.
In 2008, Paul Simon invited Foday to perform with him in ‘American Songs’, a weeklong musical retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also in 2008, Foday composed music for the acclaimed Susan Cohn Rockefeller documentary about Dr. Rick Hodes work in Ethiopia, titled ‘Making the Crooked Straight’, due to be released on HBO in 2010.
Kora Music from Gambia (Folkways, 1970)
Mandingo Griot Society (Flying Fish, 1979)
Mighty Rhythm (Flying Fish, 1982)
Hand Power (Flying Fish, 1984)
Mandingo Featuring Foday Musa Suso – Watto Sitta (Celluloid, 1984)
Sound-System, with Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1984)
Village Life, with Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1985)
Mansa Bendung (Flying Fish, 1986)
The Dreamtime (CMP, 1988)
Jazz Africa, with Herbie Hancock (Verve, 1985) Music from “The Screens”, with Philip Glass (Point Music, 1992)
Off World One, with Possession & African Dub (Sub Meta, 1995) Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa & Beyond (Ellipsis Arts, 1996) Music from the Hearts of the Masters, with Jack DeJohnette (Golden Beams, 2005)
Hybrids, with Jack DeJohnette’s The Ripple Effect (Golden Beams, 2005) The Two Worlds (Orange Mountain Music, 2008)
Koralations: Heart to Heart, with Gretchen Rowe (2012)
Toumani Diabate is one the most brilliant players of the kora (a 21-string harp-lute from West Africa). He was born in 1965 in Bamako into a great kora playing family – his father, the late Sidiki Diabate, was known throughout West Africa as the king of the kora. Sidiki Diabaté, raised the instrument from being a simple jali accompaniment instrument to the rank of solo performer.
Toumani Diabate began his apprenticeship on the kora at the age of five and made his first public performance eight years later with the Koulikoro Ensemble at the Mali Biennale. After winning the prize at that performance for Best Traditional Orchestra, he was invited to join Mali’s National Ensemble. Toumani toured Gabon and France in 1983, accompanying the great female jali singer Kandia Kouyaté.
In 1987 (then just 21 years old), Toumani broke into the international concert scene with his highly acclaimed album Kaira , still one of the best-selling solo kora albums.
Toumani’s success as soloist was immediate. He toured Europe, giving fifty concerts in Great Britain alone in 1988. Toumani has taken the kora to new heights, particularly in his two successful collaborations (Songhai and Songhai 2)with Nuevo Flamenco stars Ketama and bassist Danny Thompson. Songhai was a combination of Malian kora and flamenco, supported by a jazz bass line.
Although Toumani is largely self taught, the aggressive improvisatory style pioneered by his father is strikingly evident in Toumani’s own unique and inimitable style of playing which is intensely melodic.
In January of 2004, World Circuit’s Nick Gold was recording Ali Farka Toure’s first album in five years. The guitarist and his longtime producer from World Circuit invited Toumani Diabate to join Toure for one track: the traditional Malian song, “Kaira.” Without rehearsal, the duo improvised a version of the piece and quickly began recording another. The collaboration was so successful Nick Gold suggested they create an entire album together.
In July 2004, Nick Gold took his World Circuit team and their longtime engineering collaborator Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club) to Bamako, Mali to record In the Heart of the Moon. They set up a mobile studio in the Hotel Mande in Bamako, overlooking the Niger River and recorded the album there in three two-hour sessions. Drawing on a body of traditional songs familiar to both men, Toure and Diabate again began without rehearsing together beforehand. Only one song required a second take-because it had been interrupted by a rainstorm.
The record also includes subtle contributions from Ry Cooder on piano and guitar; Sekou Kante and Cacha?to L?pez on bass; and Joachim Cooder and Olalekan Babalola on percussion. In the Heart of the Moon is the first of a trilogy of albums Nick Gold’s label recorded at the Hotel Mande.
In recent years Toumani’s has been enjoying recognition for his contribution to the development of the kora, and as a key figure in African music. In 2003 he received the Tamani d’or, a prize awarded to the best kora player in the world; the following year saw Toumani receive the Zyriab des Virtuoses, a UNESCO prize awarded at the Mawazine Festival organized by King Mohammed 6th of Morocco, he is the first black African ever to be given the prize.
Toumani has been taking steps to help preserve the legacy of traditional kora music in Mali, and to educate future generations of their rich musical heritage, whilst encouraging them to also explore the creative possibilities within music. He is President/Director of Mandinka Kora Productions, who actively promote the kora through workshops, festivals, and various cultural events.
Toumani is also a teacher of the kora and of modern and traditional music at the Balla Fasseke Conservatoire of Arts, Culture and Multimedia, which opened at the end of 2004. Toumani has also entered into a creatively furtive period; he reunited with Ballake Sissoko for a track on Ballake’s album Tomora and also appears on the title track of Salif Keita’s 2006 recording M’Bemba.
In 2010, Toumani Diabate participated in AfroCubism. This was World Circuit’s dream project. The original intention for Buena Vista Social Club was a stellar collaboration of musicians from Mali and Cuba. In 2000 the original plan was finally realized with an incredible line-up including Eliades Ochoa, Bassekou Kouyate, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabaté, Grupo Patria, Kasse Mady Diabaté and Lassana Diabaté.
The 2014 album, Toumani & Sidiki, features Toumani Debate and his son Sidiki.
Mamadou Diabaté was born in 1975 in Kita, a Malian city long known as a center for the arts and culture of the Manding people of West Africa. As the name Diabaté indicates, Mamadou comes from a family of jelis (which French colonizers call griots) as they are known among the Manding.
Jelis are more than just traditional musicians. They use music and sometimes oratory to preserve and sustain peoples’ consciousness of the past, a past that stretches back to the 13th century when the Manding king Sunjata Keita consolidated the vast Empire of Mali, covering much of West Africa.
The stories of these glory days and the times since remain important touchstones for people today, not only for the Manding, but for many citizens of Mali, Guinea, Gambia, and Senegal. So to be born to a distinguished jeli family in Kita is already an auspicious beginning.
Mamadou’s father Djelimory Diabaté played the kora, the jeli’s venerable 21-string harp, in the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali. At the age of four, Mamadou went to live with his father in Bamako, where the Ensemble is based. When it came time for him to return to Kita and go to school, Mamadou knew that the kora was his destiny. His father had taught him how to tune the instrument, and from there he listened and watched and devoted himself to practicing the kora, to the point that his mother worried that he was not concentrating enough on school. When she took his kora away, it only reduced his interest in studying, and he quickly resorted to making his own kora so he could continue.
Before long, Mamadou left school and began playing kora for local jeli singers, and traveling throughout the region to play at the ceremonies where modern jelis ply their trade, mostly weddings and baptisms.
When he was fifteen, Mamadou won first prize for his kora playing in a regional competition and instantly became something of a local celebrity. The next year, he went to Bamako, and under the tutelage of his famous kora playing cousin, Toumani Diabate, he worked the jeli circuit, backing singers at neighborhood weddings and baptisms and entertaining the powerful at the city’s posh Amitié Hotel.
Toumani gave his cousin the nickname Djelika Djan, meaning “tall jeli” (tall griot), a reference to Mamadou’s impressive physical stature. The name has stuck.
In 1996, a touring group from the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali offered Mamadou the chance to travel to the United States of America with a group of Manding musicians and cultural authorities. Following a successful tour, Mamadou decided to continue his work in the United States. Initially, he made his home in and around New York, but he now lives in the culturally rich Durham, North Carolina.
Mamadou gets frequent invitations to perform with visiting Malian stars and has performed at the United Nations and at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. In addition, he’s delved into uncharted waters, jamming with all manners of New York musicians, including jazz luminaries Donald Byrd and Randy Weston.
His album Heritage shows why the kora virtuoso is one of the essential names in Malian music. The CD contains elaborate ensemble-style instrumental pieces featuring traditional Malian instruments such as bala (balafon) and calabash, together with acoustic bass and guitar.
His fourth solo album, Douga Mansa, a tribute to his father and grandfather, won the 2010 Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album.
Madou Sidiki Diabate presents a night of traditional West African music that dates back centuries. While relatives – his famous older brother Toumani Diabate and his cousin Mamadou Diabate – and others often put the kora into world fusion trappings, Madou Sidiki Diabate champions the kora’s traditional roots. Toumani Diabate (the world’s first Grammy Award-winning kora player) said of “Mariam”, Madou’s 2007 solo kora CD: “Mariam is the best solo kora album to date. I listen to it all the time and I am so pleased that my brother has chosen to record this traditional music in a time when so many African musicians are moving in a more modern direction.”
Born in 1982 to a prominent jeli (griot) family of Bamako, Mali, Mamadou, widely known as “Madou,” is the youngest son of the late Sidiki Diabaté and Mariam Kouyaté. His father, Sidiki Diabaté, “The King of the Kora,” used his talents as a jeli to effect social change in the country in the years between World War II and the Malian independence of 1961.
Madou began playing kora at age three and became the 71st generation of kora players in his family. From Sidiki, Madou learned the repertoire, technique, and magic of the kora. He developed as a djeli through the years by accompanying his parents as they traveled and performed. At the age of six he played his first concert, and in 1992 he became the youngest ever to perform solo kora on Malian television.
Since 1997, Madou has filled his brother Toumani’s former position as lead kora for some of the best singers and musicians in West Africa, including Kandia Kouyaté, Ami Koita, Baaba Maal, Salif Keita, Sekouba “Bambino” Diabaté, and many others. He has performed at over 1000 concerts and more than 40 festivals throughout Africa, North America, Europe, and Australia.
Madou currently lives in the Malian capital of Bamako with his wife, singer Safiatou Diabaté. He is highly respected for his command of the traditional kora repertoire and is also on the cutting edge of jazz manding, a modern direction, combining jazz sensibilities and foreign influences with the Malian sound. Today, he is considered one of the best kora players in all of West Africa. He has appeared on more than a dozen recordings by others, most notably jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater’s “Red Earth” (2007), where she went to Africa and recorded jazz songs with African instrumental backing.
Sekouba “Bambino” Diabaté was born in the small village of Siguiri (Guinea) near the Malian border. He is descended from griots or jeli (a caste of musically gifted oral-historians, messengers and bards in West Africa), his mother Mariama Samoura was one of the most celebrated singers of her time.
At the tender age of 12, Sekouba was discovered by Guinean President, Sekou Touré and at the President’s urging he became the frontman for the state-sponsored group Bembeya Jazz National. Joining the group earned him the moniker ‘Bambino’ due to his young age and to differentiate him from one of the group’s guitarists also named Sekou Diabaté (Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate). Sekouba is also known as “The National Treasure of Guinea”.
After the privatization and subsequent break-up of Bembeya Jazz, Bambino became the lead singer of Africando before leaving the group to pursue a solo career. Since that time Bambino has recorded several successful solo albums and collaborated on several others with Bembeya Jazz and Africando.
He has been featured on compilations such as: The Rough Guide to Mali & Guinea and World 2003 by EMI. His song, “Decouragé” was remixed by British DJ, Charles Webster and featured on the Buddha Bar Vol. 2 compilation.
Sekouba Bambino is an ambassador of Guinean music and griot culture, breathing new life into ancient rhythms and bridging the divide between traditional and modern Africa while remaining true to his heritage. He is a multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter of virtuoso talent.
Critically acclaimed and internationally sought-after, Bambino remains a champion of the people. Bambino is a Red Cross ambassador and an advocate for change seeking to educate the world about the plight of children suffering the effects of poverty, war and disease. Bambino’s lyrics speak to the human condition reinforcing basic values and encouraging us to treat one another with kindness and respect.
His soft-spoken demeanor and profound humility have endeared him to the hearts of the African people and in spite of his superstar status Bambino has not forgotten his role as a griot; a role that he does not take lightly. It is his love for his people and for the whole of humanity that has helped him transcend language and cultural borders to spread his dream of peace and tolerance wherever he goes.
Originally called Les Freres Diabate (The Diabate Brothers), the African Virtuoses were essentially a family band. But the Diabates were no ordinary family. For generations the Diabate clan has been esteemed in Guinea as the pre-eminent dynasty of string players.
At one time or another the African Virtuoses included four Diabate brothers playing acoustic guitars along with another guitarist or two, a kora player and one or two percussionists. Their style was rooted in traditional Mande music for stringed instruments but displayed their knowledge and love of Arabic taqasim, Spanish flamenco and even French jazz manouche.
The Classic Guinean Guitar Group is a compilation of recordings that Les Freres Diabate/African Virtuoses made in Conakry and Abidjan in the 1970s and 1980s. In the decades since, these recordings have earned an exalted reputation among guitar aficionados both for their musical excellence and for their rarity.
Abdoulaye Diabate comes from the Segu region of Mali. He was born in 1952, son of Baba Diabate, traditional chief of the Diabate jelis of Segu, and of Assitan Dembele, one of the greatest Bambara singers.
At the age of eight he started singing in villages with his mother, all the while continuing his Koranic studies and attending French school. He eventually received a degree in accounting.
In 1975, at short notice, he replaced the singer of Koule Star of Koutiala, his adopted town (which he has never left), and so began a career that has produced several albums and led to his being named Best Malian Artist of 1994.
Abdoulaye Diabate’s style is an energetic mix of modern and traditional music, where you can find drums and electric guitars, but also traditional instruments such as bala and jembe.