Before we upload more content on our trip to Cuba, here is a short introduction to the four Malian children who astonished Havana (and Matanzas!) with their music.
Mariam “Ne” Kouyate (born c. 1995)
Ne comes from an extended family of celebrated griots from Garana, a remote village of some 2000 inhabitants in the province of Segou, only accessible by a dirt road. This is an intensely musical family of singers and players of the ngoni, one of the oldest griot instruments of the region, dating back at least a millennium. The most famous member of the family is Ne’s uncle, the ngoni player and band leader Bassekou Kouyate, who was born and raised in Garana until the age of 20 when he moved to Bamako. The Kouyates of Garana are deeply committed to the griot tradition of Segou. Ne has that special, piercing voice of the Segou region, and is a brilliant dancer and performer of the tegere tulon, the clapping songs that village girls perform under the full moon.
Daniel Dambele (born c. 2003)
Daniel is the youngest of seven brothers. They are a family of Bobo hereditary musicians (called anu in Bobo). The Bobo are an ethnicity from south-east Mali and Burkina Faso who have settled in Segou; they have their own distinctive repertoire, although they are also conversant with Mande griot music. The Dambele brothers perform as a group at local festivals and at life-cycle events such as weddings and child-naming celebrations. They are all multi-instrumentalists, specializing in the Bobo balafon called chonzo, the bara (gourd drum), and the orozo (a 12-16 string calabash harp). Largely self-taught, Daniel showed exceptional talent from a very early age – musical instruments were his toys – and was composing his own music by the age of four.
Rokia Kouyate (born 1998)
Rokia is the granddaughter of Kasse Mady Diabate, one of Mali’s most treasured voices. Kasse Mady hails from a famous lineage of Diabates from Kela, a village 106 km west of Bamako, well known for its centuries-old oral epic traditions, and considered great authorities on Mande history. Rokia’s mother, Aoua Kasse Mady, is one of the finest young female singers of Mali, and Rokia’s father is Demba Kouyate, ngoni player and guitarist. The family lives in Bamako but maintains close connections with Kela.
Rokia learns from her mother, with whom she often performs at marriage ceremonies. In 2011 she was a finalist in the popular television programme Ministar, where children between the ages of 7 and 12 imitate a local star singer. She is appreciated for her assured performances, her ability to improvise, and her knowledge of a broad range of repertoires both new and old.
Salif Diabate (born 2000)
Salif Diabate comes from a family of world-famous kora players. His father is acclaimed virtuoso Mamadou “Madou Sidiki” Diabate, who has played with the likes of Damon Albarn and Amadou & Mariam; his uncle is multi-award winning kora player Toumani Diabate, and his grandfather, originally from Gambia, was Sidiki Diabate, who pioneered solo kora in the 1940s and 1950s. Because Madou Sidiki is often on tour, much of the teaching of Salif has been entrusted to Boubacar Cissoko, a relative from Senegal now living in Mali. He is appreciated for his soulful, melodic approach to the kora.