Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité – Sirata

Mali is split into regions, much like any country. In its southern west corner Regions I, II and III are located, along with the country’s capital Bamako which is given an administrative region all of its own. These three Regions – named Kayes, Koulikoro and Sikasso – are currently on high alert with border controls in place trying to step the flow of a deadly Ebola outbreak in West African neighbours Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. This month international medical NGO MSF has raised further concerns about the scale and danger of this outbreak. They stressed that Ebola will remain ‘out of control’ until the international community steps up its response and it could begin to spread to other countries in the region.

Fortunately for the people of Mali their country has yet to test positive to the disease.

This week’s song hails from Kayes region which is the most westerly part of Mali. It is a region of mixed geography, dry Sahelian generally with forests and a ‘rather wet‘ climate on the Guinean border in the south. The Malian this week is Habib Koité. The bio on his website (translated by Google) explains that:

‘He inherited his passion for music from his paternal grandfather who played “Kamale ngoni”, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters from the region….“Nobody really taught me to sing or play the guitar …. ” explains Habib, “I looked at my parents, and it rubbed off on me.” Habib was destined for a career in engineering, but thanks to the insistence of his uncle who had spotted early musical talent and persuaded his parents, he enrolled at the National Institute of Arts (INA) in Bamako. 

Good move, judging on his career success and great contributions to Malian music. His style provides an alternative to most Malian music associated with his generation (Koité’s youthful appearance of dreadlocks and a charming grin shades the fact that he is 56 years old and represents the generation in-between Salif Keita and Toumani Diabaté). His style is ‘intimate and relaxed, emphasizing calm, moody singing‘ rather than concentrating on instrumental technical prowess. This week’s song is a fantastic example. Here Koité is backed up by his band ‘Bamada’ which is the nickname given to Bamako by its residents.


Habib Kioté – Sirata

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