Malian guitarist Habib Koité is one of Africa’s most popular and recognized musicians. Habib comes from a noble line of Khassonké griots, traditional troubadors who provide wit, wisdom, and musical entertainment at social gatherings as well as special events. Habib grew up surrounded by seventeen brothers and sisters, and developed his unique guitar style accompanying his griot Mother. He inherited his passion for music from his paternel grandfather who played the kamele n’goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters from the Wassolou region of Mali.
Habib takes some unique approaches to playing the guitar. He tunes his instrument to the pentatonic scale and plays on open strings as one would on a kamale n’goni. At other times, Habib plays music that sounds closer to the blue style he studied under Khalilou Traoré, a veteran of the legendary Afro-Cuban band Maravillas du Mali.
Unlike the griots, his singing style is restrained and intimate with varying cadenced rhythms and melodies.
Mali has rich and diverse musical traditions, all of which have many regional variations and styles that are particular to the local cultures. Habib is unique because he brings together different styles, creating a new pan-Malian approach that reflects his open-minded interest in all types of music. The predominant style played by Habib is based on the danssa, a popular rhythm from his native city of Keyes. He calls his version danssa doso, a Bambara term he coined that combines the name of the popular rhythm with the word for hunter’s music (doso), one of Mali’s most powerful and ancient musical traditions.
Habib Koité & Bamada play The Somerville Theatre on Nov. 11. Showtime is 8 PM. Tickets $40