Washington may be chock-a-block with lobbyists and consultants, but only one of them rocks the nâ€™goni, the West African plucked lute covered with animal skin. He advises presidents and the World Bank. Heâ€™s played for everyone from a struggling couple trying to save their marriage, to the U.S. Congress. Heâ€™s hobnobbed with American string and Blues legendsâ€”from Bela Fleck to Corey Harrisâ€”and along the way reunited his beloved instrument with its long-lost grandchild, Americaâ€™s banjo.
And now heâ€™s taken Malian music global thanks to a unique African music incubator on the outskirts of Washington, DC, where he has gathered together friends and family, including bluesman Corey Harris, members of DCâ€™s Afrofunk big band, Chopteeth, and his daughter and nephew, to form a creative community brimming over on his newest release, Ake Doni Doni – â€œTake it Slowâ€ (Grigri Discs; August 11, 2009). His name is Cheick Hamala Diabate, and heâ€™s got something to tell you.
â€œThe music we griots play is not just about making nice sounds for dancing, itâ€™s about giving a lesson to people about their lives. You tell them about what their grandfathers did, and what they should do now,â€ explains Diabate, whose griot roots run deep as first cousin to kora master Toumani Diabate, and nephew to legendary Super Rail Band guitarist, Djelimady Tounkara. â€œPeople trust the griot more than anyone else.â€