GWMF2017: Uprising – Interview with Bassekou Kouyate

Gibraltar World Music Festival 2017 – Uprising


Bassekou Kouyate

GWMF 2017: Uprising – Interview with Bassekou Kouyate



Bassekou, you are known as a master of the instrument called NGONI, could you please tell us more about this very particular instrument?


The Ngoni is a string instrument considered sacred for the Griots of Mali. We have traces of Griots playing music for our king’s way before BC.


What is your definition of Griot and since when your family is transmitting your culture?


For Centuries Griots have been pillars of our civilisations. They have been in the middle of all our social relations. For example, you could not marry without going through a Griot, no baptism could be done without a Griot, and they also helped to mediate in disputes within families and tribes.
We have been in this “business” for centuries servicing our population and our kings.


How did you manage to propose a style transition between your parents and what you are proposing currently, did you shock people?


The world has changed, our parents created for their era and we create for our era. I do carry on playing on our beautiful traditional instruments but my way. More importantly I take them out of kings’ palaces or weddings to the world. Every one of my ancestor was playing the Ngoni for prestigious warriors or rich families, I consider that it should be known internationally and that way I contributed to save the existence of the instrument itself (but without denying the traditions).


You have been compared to many other great artists such as Ali Farka Touré or Toumani Diabaté, how important is this to you?


I made collaboration with Ali and he supported my music constantly. He used to call me the Black Diamond, he convinced me to perform with my own band by calling his producer Nick Gold and convinced him to consider me. He used to push me in the front of the stage when we were on tour and insisted that we should become the succession…I frankly never saw a leader like him able to do that.
As for Toumani We have made 9 CDs with, I gathered a lot of experience touring the world with him.


You founded a music school in Bamako? Why was that?

I do want to train the new generations and pupils from all over the world. I have students from Japan, US, France etc.… They learn how to play, to fabricate the instrument, to dance, to sing…My tradition is to transmit, I cannot stop doing what my family was doing before.


How do you view the use of Ngonis by other musicians and in other genders?


For me Jazz and Blues come from the Ngoni sound. We did not know any Jazz or Blues one century ago and we were playing similar tunes thanks to the Ngoni. I am convinced that the Ngoni is the root of these styles of music… Come to Bamako and listen to our music and you will feel where the Jazz and Blues come from…700 years ago our kings were calling this music differently but today the same music is being called Jazz.


Is the success of Mali music internationally changes your creative process?


In fact, it makes me discover more of my roots. The music from Mali is rich and we are yet to discover half of it. Our musicians are winning awards everywhere, leaving good memories to audiences and with more exploration of the existing variety of our music we will be able to share more of its beauty and carry on the journey in the long term.


The situation in Mali is extreme, do you feel threatened? The prohibition to play Music is still here…What’s your view on this?


Everyone is welcomed in Mali and what you hear in the media is exaggerated. Islamists extremists tried to stop us playing our music but failed. Mali will always be Mali and the music is still alive and kicking.
We can still freely play everywhere; concerts halls are full… despite the situation and the problems.


In Gibraltar, you will play at Commonwealth park (7th of June 2017), at St Michael’s cave (8th of June 2017) and we will see you in the documentary called Mali Blues on Tuesday the 6th of June at Leisure Cinemas.


I am proud and honoured that Gibraltar discovers our music and our message. I hope to demonstrate that the Blues comes from Mali. More importantly, Gibraltar will enjoy the festival and the joy we are going to share with its population.


Gibraltar initiates the Brightmed in 2017 and the location is an obvious meeting point between the North and the south. What message would you like to send to the population of Gibraltar?


My message to Gibraltar and to the world is to encourage peace through dialogue and education and to ensure to obtain more rights for women, especially since women hold such an important position in our personal lives and in society we live in. I understand that the Brightmed is an essential contribution to these causes.
Come and listen to our joyful music and you will understand how we compile and deliver these messages.


What are your plans for the future?


I am training my pupils and my children at home to follow our artists’ footprints.
Meanwhile I am recording my fifth album currently which will sound more and more….BLUES ☺

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