Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Trio Da Kali – “Ladilikan”

The first thing you notice with this song is the striking sound of the balafon – a wooden xylophone-ish instrument dating back to medieval Mali, when it was at the height of its Empire in the 13th/14th century. The instrument is strongly associated with the West African griots. In Mali its is particularly associated with the Mandé people. Indeed the word ‘Balafon’ is a compound word originating in the language of Mandinka which is an important language for the Mandé people through-out West Africa, especially in The Gambia.

The popularity of the balafon endures. The city of Sikasso in Mali has developed an entire festival dedicated to the instrument, which – like all things musical and Malian – has struggled since the crises of 2012/13 despite a 7th edition of the gathering occurring during that period.  At the 2010 festival, Bassidi Kone and Bwazan shot to national fame when they produced this phenomenal award-winning performance which shows the instrument in its full melodic glory. Well worth a watch.

The exceptional sound of the balafon heard in ‘Ladilikan’ is down to the talents of another legend of the instrument Lassana Diabaté, described recently by African music producer and expert Lucy Durán of SOAS as “the top balafon player from Mali“. That’s a pretty big deal and Diabaté is currently working as group leader of Trio Da Kali, who are on tour in the UK in February/March. This exciting tour begins in Swansea on the 20th of February and ends on the 6th of March in Gateshead. Their tour includes performances at the Junction in Cambridge on Saturday February 21st and London RichMix on Sunday 22nd February. In addition to Lasanna Diabaté’s sublime balafon, the Trio is made up of “the soaring, rounded vibrato voice of Hawa Kassé Mady” (daughter of legendary singer Kasse Mady Diabaté) and Mamadou Kouyaté (son of ngoni maestro Bassekou Kouyate) who “underpins the music with punchy bass lines on a large ngoni“.


“The three musicians of Trio Da Kali hail from the Mande culture of Mali, from a heritage of distinguished griots, the caste of specialist hereditary musical artisans. Aiming to showcase neglected repertoires and performance styles of the griots, they bring a fresh, contemporary, creative twist to their musical art, breathing new life back into this ancient tradition. Their performances offer a rare glimpse into the soul of the art of the griot, celebrating the African continent’s finest, most subtle and sublime music.” – Making Tracks


For today’s Song of the Week we must thank the person who recorded it live at the University of Maryland, and for posting on SoundCloud. It is a great recording and contains a thoroughly deserved round of applause at the end. I suggest you listen and then join in!

Trio Da Kali – “Ladilikan”

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