Tag Archives: Habib Koite

100th Edition! Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koite – Din Din Wo (Little Child)

2 years and 100 editions later, the Song of the Week arrives here. Thank you for tuning in and sharing the endless musical delights of our beloved Mali. I hope you have enjoyed it so far.

To mark this very special occasion and achievement by the Mali Interest Hub, Mali Development Group (MDG) Chair Andy Benson has graciously accepted our invitation to select this week’s instalment. Appearing as the Hub’s first ever ‘guest’, this is what he has to say about Mali and the reasoning behind his exemplary choice:


“Although a large and imposing figure, Habib Koite gives off a gentleness that is reflected in his music. Like other Malian musicians he sings about the life he sees around him. The empathy of his music acknowledges the struggle of living in one of the most hard pressed regions of the world, the mutuality and social solidarity that is needed to keep going there, the celebration and joy that comes from the warmth of relationships, and the typical Malian power of music to transport and transform. His music is melodic and lilting, sad and nostalgic like autumn, but gets in the groove as well. His guitar work is very tasty, beautifully crossing over between old and new, north and south, cultures and musical styles that live happily alongside one another. Nylon strings on his semi acoustic electric guitar offer the perfect complement to his singing and his band Bamada never fail to support the man at the front, sometimes discretely, sometimes making the pace.  The track I’ve chosen, ‘Little Child’, is of a father reassuring his child that “your mother is coming…. and won’t be long”. She’s gone to a wedding, a funeral, an errand, “… not far away”. All is well apparently but the song holds an ambiguity, maybe all is not well, maybe the mother is not to return. Simultaneously, sweet and sad – very Habib Koite.

I briefly met him, on my first visit to Mali, at the 2004 Festival of the Desert. It was Koite’s music, alongside the storming set from the late, great Ali Farka Toure, that stayed with me through the rest of that mind-blowing, life changing adventure. Travelling through Mali, the light, the red dust, the promise of the morning sun in a vast, vast landscape, and the festival itself under the Saharan stars, shook me into a different place. And in a little time later, searching for some continuing relationship with the place led me to the Mali Development Group, a small UK-based support group working with Malian voluntary organisations in Bamako, the capital city, and in remote country areas (and the group behind the Mali Interest Hub). 10 years later we’re still at it, trying to beg, borrow and blag money and other resources to support the extraordinary people of Mali. This gives back to us in spades, getting to places we’d never see otherwise and having the privilege of finding out firsthand what life is like for the communities we work with. So my thanks to Habib Koite for helping me to set out on this amazing journey.

The violence, insecurity and displacement in Mali since 2012 means that the Festival of the Desert is no longer possible right now. But, despite the Jihadists, the music plays on and with it hope for a peaceful future and opportunities for material development that can match the cultural richness of this extraordinary place.”

Andy Benson

Chair – Mali Development Group




Habib Koite – Din Din Wo (Little Child)

Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Habib Koité & Bamada – I Ka Barra

Here at the Hub we try and vary the good news with the bad news. Whilst there is plenty of bad news swirling around, it is important to remember that life during war time, poverty and instability carries on the best it can. Mali’s current problems are chiefly man-made – the recurrence of conflict and dreadful economic mismanagement. In an incisive article this week, Alex Duval Smith succinctly captures the relationship between the two; how they perpetuate one another. Importantly, it explains the misery and complete lack of options it create at an individual level, compassionately showing that to become a migrant is no easy option, even to a neighbouring country let alone Europe, but what if you believe its the only way out of poverty for you and your family?  There is huge pressure to go elsewhere in an attempt to provide for those who it pains you to leave behind. Not an unreasonable belief to hold considering the dire situation in Mali, particularly in the northern half of the country.

Furthermore, Duval Smith links up the bigger picture full-circle. A common narrative is that Europe is having a problem dumped on its shores and coastlines, and has no choice but to deal with it. Relief and rescue efforts are stoic and noble at best and at worst are pandering, wasteful and – in the words of UKIP Leader Nigel Farage – “could lead to half a million Islamic extremists coming to our countries and posing a direct threat to our civilisation“. Duval Smith pins the problem back on Europe and the West for bank-rolling corruption through poorly structured aid programmes. Europe can hardly claim that it has been unaware of this problem up until the moment it began washing up on its beaches? They have routinely and somewhat actively failed to address many incumbent political and economic problems in West Africa. Worse, millions in public funds have been signed off by the European electorate with the best of intentions, only to be used to do the precise opposite.

But as we began, there is good news. Duval Smith has reported some too via annotated picture gallery of the massive 13th Century mosque in Djenne getting its annual coat of mud. This is no ordinary maintenance job as thousands of ordinary Malian’s join in, furiously working in teams to assist the skilled masons. Its a contest of speed, with respect being the greatest prize and motivator. One mason notes that more people have brought flags this year; noticing that these expressions of community are taking on increasing national significance for ordinary, peaceful Malians. These projects defy the script, that their country is hopelessly turning upon itself, and people are embracing them – reclaiming the script for themselves. So this week’s song had to match this in its positive outlook, and what better than a song entitled “Your Work”.



Habib Koite & Bamada – I Ka Barra

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