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Habib Koite

 

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accomplish it again. The Malian guitarist Habib Koite might be the one. On the strings of his guitar, ancient tones dance with sounds of the modern world.

Koite calls himself the Modern Griot. With his acoustic guitar standing in for the kora, the ancient twenty-one-stringed lute-harp of peoples across Mali and its neighboring countries, he plays instrumental pieces and spins tales in a variety of West African and sometimes European languages. The Ark has hosted some legendary performances of traditional Malian kora music, and Koite is in touch with that art of hypnotic cascading notes. But he is a musician of our time, not of the timeless tradition of kora music.

Sometimes he plays the guitar solo, but most often he appears with a highly energetic band that mixes traditional styles with modern ones--and modern styles with one another. In the past he's taken the stage with percussionists, a xylophonist, and a couple of electric guitarists who can reproduce a variety of West African rhythms and have brought him popularity in many African countries and across Europe. Koite's acoustic guitar, outfitted with heavy strings, cuts through even a big electric sound.

Malian musicians also have an uncanny ability to collaborate with musicians from other parts of the world, and Koite recently recorded an album with American-born blues guitarist Eric Bibb. In the wake of that, Koite has formed a new band that includes a banjo, an originally West African instrument probably related to the kora. The banjo has thus come full circle.

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