The three members of Trio da Kali come from a long line of distinguished southern Malian griots. With only voice and the traditional West African instruments the balafon and bass ngoni, they bring us the intimate, personal, and unforgettable songs from their Mande culture. Their new record is a collaboration with the Kronos Quartet and a beautiful exemplar of cultural cross-pollination.
Da Kali means ‘to give a pledge’ in this case to a musical heritage that dates back to the time of Sunjata Keita, founder of the great Mali empire in the early 13th century. The line-up of balafon (xylophone) bass ngoni (lute) and female singer is also based on ancient tradition, although the trio format and its repertoire is now an endangered species in contemporary Malian music.
All three Da Kali members come from celebrated hereditary musical families, and were brought together as a griot ‘super-group’ by Dr Lucy Duran on behalf of the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI), which has an admirable track-record of commissioning and producing a variety of projects involving traditional musicians. Balafon player Diabaté was a long-time member of Toumani Diabate’s Symmetric Orchestra and has recorded with Salif Keita, Taj Mahal and many others. A musician of great subtlety and invention he has honed a virtuosic two-balafon technique to perfection. Bass ngoni player Mamadou Kouyaté is the eldest son of the instrument’s greatest exponent Bassekou Kouyaté, and he holds down the groove in his father’s band Ngoni ba. He is also involved in the thriving Bamako hip-hop scene. Singer Hawa ‘Kassé Mady’ Diabate is the daughter of Mali’s greatest traditional singer, Kassé Mady Diabate, and the power, range and phrasing of her voice led Harrington to compare her to the late queen of American gospel Mahalia Jackson