A blog about arts and societies around the world

Pédro Kouyaté, a cross cultural griot

I’ve recently had a chat with Pedro Kouyaté, a passionate and nonconformist Malian musician living in Paris. His third album, Live, has recently hit the shelves.

Pedro Kouyaté is not a typical griot artist.

In West Africa, griots are the guardians of oral tradition. They can be historians, storytellers or musicians. Pedro was born of griot ancestors but he has grown tired of this world. His mind wanders elsewhere.

When he was younger he rather enjoyed hanging out at Siby, his mother’s village, near Bamako. There he bonded with the hunters’ society. The hunters live close to nature and Pedro could relate to that.

It’s actually rare for an outsider to be introduced to this brotherhood whose powers are both feared and admired in the Mandé society. But this didn’t discourage Pedro and he was eventually allowed to join in.

It’s from this dual universe that Pedro’s original character is rooted. He’s curious and provocative. He gets his inspiration from everything around him, whether it’s a smell, a person or a Bach symphony.

Pedro Kouyaté_concert

Pedro came to Europe as Malian bluesman Boubacar Traoré’s bassist and he’s never left. He had made up his mind: he would stay there to pursue his dream of becoming a professional musician.

Many griots have become well known for being kora virtuosos. Names like Toumani Diabaté come to mind. It’s true that the kora is the traditional instrument of griots. Pedro did actually spend some time learning the 21-string harp at Toumani’s but he later ditched it for a kamele n’goni, a plucked string lute related to the sacred music of hunters.

His current band is formed of four members: a bassist, a drummer, a saxophonist and himself singing and playing n’goni or guitar depending on his mood.

His third album summons contemporary flavours with traditional Malian charms. It’s far from classic verse/chorus song building. The music is more linear. It’s often made of hypnotic bass lines, sharp solos and eccentric tales. All of them combined create a synergy of musical harmonies from varied spheres, almost spell-like.

Is it soul music à la James Brown? Is it Malian griot music? Or transe music? A little bit of everything undoubtedly. None can argue how influential the musical dynamics between Africa and America has been on both continents’ societies. Pedro hasn’t escaped from this. Neither has his music.

It’s quite obvious that Pedro loves making and playing music. A few beats of his songs and his joie de vivre soaks you up. Now’s the time to check him out.

Pédro Kouyaté introduces the kamele n’goni and improvises a song:

An edited version of the article has been published in People With Voices

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