Music: Kouyate starts new traditional African sound

People in Italy often says that there is little innovation in music. But after a careful watch it is possible to discover unexplored sounds with deep and strong roots.

These are sounds that come from hidden humanity, strong friendships that overcome any race, religions and lifestyles boundaries.

Lao Kouyate
is a truly music innovator. His origins are from Mali but he was born in Senegal and he lives in Europe since decades. 

Reached by phone, Kouyate explained to that even his family name is strictly linked to the “griot” tradition, that of storytellers.


When you began playing Kora?
I started when I was 8 because my father and my mother were griot. It is a Spanish word used by the French to define the work of storytellers, people attending King’s court and politics meetings and wars and then telling the people what happened.

In the past there were no writers thus the griot transmitted only through music and voice what happened in courts. This happened since the times of the Mali’s empire that covered vast territories from nowadays states of Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali.

Even my family name, Kouyate, means “storytellers”.

It seems written in your past that you had to become a musician.

Yes I would say so. It’s my destiny. Since I was born I have always heard playing the Kora and many other traditional music instruments in Senegal.

Can traditional African music mix with contemporary sounds?
I believe so. There is some space for this.

Of course in Senegal nowadays there are many storytellers. Once you listen to the music of one of them, it’s like you listened to them all because they all play in the same way. Even though our tradition is very important, there is space to innovate, to experience new sounds with strong roots in the past.

For example with my Kora, that I carried to 66 ropes from the traditional 22, I can play any music genre: from blues to jazz. Any kind of music.

What were the topics of storytellers’ stories?
They did a work similar to nowadays journalists. They attended meetings with kings and then they spoke to the people and they also reported about wars as they went with the militias.
Today is different, of course.

What are the main topics for “griot” people today? 
Basically everything that inspires them: people’s lives, love, society, nature. I also want to add that the role of “griot” has not changed, even though the message has changed. They have been messengers in the past, so they keep this identity nowadays.
Are there other Kora players like you in Senegal?
Yes there are many players of Kora in Africa. Many play just traditional music while others are working on new sounds. They try to join traditional music with contemporary sounds.

You often play on stage in concerts and public auditions. Where will it be the next date?
In Italy we will play the 23rd of January to the former slaughterhouse in Aprilia, via Cattaneo, 2


More info:

Myspace Lao Kouyate

In this video, below, you can watch and listen a performance of Lao Kouyate and Saba Anglana

Lao Kouyatè and Saba Anglana performing live

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