Andra Kouyaté, Malian Griot

by: Blaine Skrainka

June 27, 2012

Andra Kouyaté and his enemble Sèkè Chi are gearing up to export their first international release, Saro, at the end of July. The innovative new album sees Kouyaté continue to develop fresh sounds, building upon his pedigree of music-making and storytelling.

In a press statement, the Malian musician elaborates: “I am always searching and listening and trying to understand more music. If I only played traditional music in the same way, it would simply be too limiting for me. I want to expand. It’s what I was meant to do.”

Andra Kouyate, WILD Mag, Saro, Mali, Griot

Andra Kouyaté and his elder brother Bassekou – music royalty in Mali – have been immersed in song their entire lives, and today travel the globe as cultural ambassadors.  

“I was born with music, and my life is music,” reflects Kouyaté. “This is what we do in my family. If I don’t make music, I am nothing.”

Kouyaté creates new sounds through both expression and the creation of new instruments. He recently developed an evolved, more bass-sounding version of a n’goni, an instrument that is considered a precursor to the banjo.

The brothers Kouyaté are part of a tradition, a group of West African storytellers known griots, or jelis. According to Toumani Diabate, a fellow Malian artist, griot means more than being a musician; it involves talking, negotiating, and bringing peace. Andra Kouyaté explains:

“The role of the griot is to bring back to life things that are broken between people, between family members, villages, even countries. And to resolve conflicts.”

There may never have been a more important time in Mali for spreading peaceful dialogue than today. The country has been split as Tuareg and Islamist rebels occupy the north, a territory they now call Azawad. The military coup and imposition of Shariah law have led to violence and a refugee crisis.   

Afropop Worldwide had a chance to discuss the conflict with the group AfroCubism (Toumani Diabate, Bassekou Kouyaté and Djelimady Tounkara) after a gig earlier this month as part of Celebrate Brooklyn. In the interview, Diabate explains their duties as griots during these precarious times:

“It is necessary for us to be on the road to talk to the people, to give more explanation about what’s going on in Mali today … to bring peace, to be ambassadors. That’s the whole thing.”

Andra Kouyaté builds on this sentiment:

“Music is something that has no borders. Music is something that speaks all languages. It has no limits and crosses all cultures,” he says, “It’s all the blues, all jazz. It can be Malian, Ethiopian, anything. Everyone can understand it and play together.”


Saro is due out July 31 via Studio Mali. Catch a preview here.


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