Mah Damba: Hakili Kélé

Individuals merge into families, families into communities, communities into nations and the generations turn. One way we make sense of life’s fabric is through art, distilling human possibility and experience into memorable form. Ancient societies had guardians of oral history but the griot caste of West Africa demonstrates unique resilience, the troubadour-praise singer-historian-genealogists of old transitioning into today’s folk musicians. In modern Mali, Senegal … More Mah Damba: Hakili Kélé

Habib Koité: Soô

Traffic, drought and Kardashians may dent the Los Angeles brand, but the city still charmed Habib Koité, the great Malian singer-songwriter and descendant of griots. L.A. is his tribute song, favorably measuring Southern California’s sun, hills, even livestock, against what his own country offers. “Avoid comparing yourself to a race of heroes/Theirs is a special brew you should avoid drinking,” he sings, in Bambara, before switching to a chorus in English about consoling tequila (video 1) … More Habib Koité: Soô

Moh! Kouyaté: Loundo

Most singer-songwriters master notes, but few are as steeped in history as Moh! Kouyaté. Born into a family of griots—the West African bards who impart stories and oral history through song—he brings centuries of heritage to his music. Kouyaté’s compositions and lyrics blend Mandinka tradition from his native Guinea (he now lives in Paris) with blues, jazz and rock. He sings in Maninka and several sister languages from the Mandé … More Moh! Kouyaté: Loundo