Opera North Blog

An interview with Bassekou Kouyate + new African music season announced

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Leeds-based writer, musician and teacher Sam Wilson interviewed Malian ngoni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate before he played to a sold out crowd at the Howard Assembly Room on 23 October 2015.

You can read a short excerpt from the piece below, and the full interview, with a helpful account of Mali’s troubled recent history, is available from Sam’s website.

Our 3 Generations season for 2016 brings more musical genius from across Africa to the Howard Assembly Room stage. Senegal’s Cheikh Lô performs music from his new album on 30 January; Bassekou’s compatriot, “Hendrix of the Sahara” Vieux Farka Touré plays Malian blues in the rich Songhai tradition on 4 February; and the legendary father of Ethio-jazz, vibraphonist Mulatu Astatke (pictured) makes an incredibly rare appearance on 10 February. All shows are on sale now with our Winter 2016 season.

Bassekou Kouyate: Rebel With A Cause

‘Bassekou Kouyate... is perhaps the world’s greatest ngoni player. The ngoni is a small West African lute, an ancestor of the banjo, with a small oval wooden body and neck, wrapped in animal skin and strung with nylon fishing line. Bassekou comes from a line of musicians that stretches back centuries, and his music is steeped in the rich musical traditions of his native Mali. But his outlook is modern.

Fiercely engaged with current affairs and determined to connect to young people, he has literally plugged Malian music into the mains. He runs his little lute through a whacking amplifier, adding distortion and a wah-wah pedal, and his shredding solos slice the air like lightning. This is not ‘folksy’ or ‘roots’ music. This is rock. He is in the Howard Assembly Rooms in Leeds, touring his new album ‘Ba Power’ with his family band Ngoni Ba, and before going on stage he has agreed to an interview...

“The songs we sing are all Malian songs”, he says, “we sing in Malian, they are old from the seventeenth century. The voice is Malian, and the rhythms are Bara rhythms from my region [Segu]. The only thing I changed was the sound, and with effects, pushed the music more.” Such reverence for tradition would seem to make it impossible to compose anything new. His father would sit down to play the ngoni and would not enter a recording studio for fear of incurring the wrath of God. Bassekou, standing with his foot on the amp, shredding a solo to great cheers from the crowd, is his own man.’

Sam Wilson

Read the full interview with Bassekou.

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