Bassékou Kouyaté

Bassekou Kouyaté
The prince of the strings

Descendant of the great n’goni players, Bassekou Kouyaté largely contributed to the promotion of this mythical and legendary instrument all around the world. From Garana (Baréouli) to Brussels passing by Segou, Bamako, Abidjan, Ouagadougou, Spain, Italy, and United States …, the virtuoso can boast of a glorious career.

Inheritance is the best source of inspiration and Bassekou Kouyaté drinks to limpid sources. Born in 1966 in Garana (Tamani, prefecture of Baréouli), his father Mustapha Kouyaté was certainly the best n’goni player of the region. Talent and virtuosity that was naturally at the service of the singer (his wife) Yagaré Damba. Unrivalled in the traditional rhythms like the ndjaro, the duet was all the rage among the Fulani’s and djogoramès regions.

The n’goni was the toy of the children in our family. We competed in its making and playing. At 12 years old, I already was a master in n’goni playing” said the heir of the Kouyaté. Between Coranic School and folkloric manifestation, the child had the time to mature and to choose his career.
In 1976, his father is ill (he died in 1984) so the young virtuoso accompanied his mother on tour in Côte d'Ivoire, au Burkina, etc. the first step of a destiny that would lead him to criss-cross the world.

The rest of his career took shape as the encounters went by. He first met Cheick Oumar Diabaté, husband of the singer Naïny Diabaté, in Segou in 1983. The guitar player and the n’goni player became friends in life and accomplices on stage. Friendship and complicity which led them to settle down in Bamako were they had a lot of good opportunities. They were the arrangers of almost all the female singers: Koni Koumaré, Naïny Diabaté, and Tata Bambo Kouyaté

In 1987, Bassekou meets Toumani Diabaté, the great revelation of the Kora of the eighty’s. This encounter is a decisive leap in his career. Two years later, they undertook a sub regional tour which leads them in Ivory Coast and Burkina… they then flight for Belgium for the folk festival Donaterre. This time Habib Koité, “the child of the Khasso” is in the journey. “It was the first time for us to go out of the African continent. We owe this privilege to Toumani Diabaté” reckons the husband of the female singer Amy Sacko.

In 1990, he’s the only representative of Mali at the festival of the Banjo in Tennessee (United States). He remembers that “I was the youngest artist invited. But I had a phenomenal success”. Taj Mahal then remarked him. “We immediately sympathised. We made emissions together. He dedicated me a song and I did the same”.

When he’s back, the Senegalese El Hadj Ndiaye asked him to work in his “studio 2000” in Dakar.
This allowed him to evaluate a lot at the contact of stars like Baaba Maal, Thione Baladio Seck, etc. a few times after, Toumani Diabaté appeal to him for the recording of his album "Bérébéré" in Abidjan with Japanese musicians and the sound engineer of Stevie Wonder. The friends will stay a lot together because they will create the band the "Trio manding" with Kèlètigui Diabaté (Balafon); a band which will criss-cross the world to promote the instruments and rhythms of our country.

The band made several musical experimentation such as "Symphonie mandingue", "Symétrie Orchestra", et "Songhaï II" at the beginning of the ninety’s. These experiences allow the confirmed talent to share his passion with stars as Carlos Santana, Jackson Brown, Ali Farka Touré, Cheick Tidiane Seck, and Bonnie Raitt

Equipped enough and always in search of new sonorities, Bassekou creates his own band in 2003. The band is called "Samagéra" and his talented wife Amy Sacko is in it. The couple appoint as assistant Lassana Diabaté (Balafon), Adama Diarra (djembé) and Fousseyni Kouyaté (bass n’goni).
The band has not yet recorded any album. “Everything takes place at the right time. We have a rich repertoire but the band is very young. We want to be well known in the international show biz first. And we don’t want to work with bad producer. Our album won’t be long any more” promised the band leader.

N’goni festival

The artist speaks with passion of his instrument. “The n’goni allows any experience because it can be harmonized with all kind of sounds and rhythms. With this instrument, you ca play blues, jazz, and classical music…” he said. Bassekou wants to organise the festival of n’goni in Bamako. “The n’goni is one of the first instruments of Mali. It’s a mythical instrument full of history and people are forgetting it. This instrument must not be neglected; it’s bound to the history of this country and of its people. It’s an instrument privileged of the royal court. N’goni wasn’t player for any one”. He specifies that “the festival’s goal is to revalue the n’goni. Griots will be invited to tell its history. Participants will come from every African, Asiatic and European countries where the n’goni is played”.

The virtuoso wants to gather around his project and passion n’goni players of Morocco, Japan, China, Senegal, Burkina and Spain… maybe the project will take place next year. There are lot of engagement from every where in the world and national support. The minister of culture Cheick Oumar Sissoko is engaged.

Full career

The organisation of the festival will be a decisive turning point of his career. “The success of a career is not measurable only through the financial richness. I’m satisfied of my career because I met lot of talents. I even player with stars known all around the world. I weaved strong professional and friendly relations all over the world”. At 37 years old, all this is just the beginning for the children of the Garana.

MAJ 15/01/2004