Mali meets Los Alamos

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By Kirsten Laskey

Mali musician Balla Kouyate’s family holds a major responsibility. As djeli, they are tasked with reminding the community of its traditional greatness and accomplishments.

This can be done through being a historian, dancer or performer. Kouyate chose music to promote his culture.

And he is bringing his music and culture to Los Alamos.

Kouyate and his band, World Vision, will perform at 7 p.m. Friday at Ashley Pond. The concert is part of the Los Alamos County Summer Concert Series. So what can locals learn from a steward of the music of Mali?

“They will learn about the history of music,” concert organizer Russ Gordon said. “A lot of the music he plays is traditional.”

He explained many different genres of American music – jazz, blues and soul – originated from Africa. “(You’ll) see the roots from Mali,” Gordon said.

At the concert, Kouyate will perform the balafon, which is similar to a xylophone.

Gordon explained the instrument sounds like a steel drum at times. It also sounds jazzy. “It’s also very danceable and he’ll have us all dancing and swaying,” Gordon said.

The instrument has strong ties to his family; Gordon said a balafon has been in the Kouyate family’s possession for the past 800 years. “He was pretty much born to play the balafon,” he said.

His talents have led to several collaborations with artists such as Ben Harper and Yo Yo Ma.

Gordon encourages people to come out to hear Kouyate’s talents themselves. “The overall feeling is going to be very happy,” he said. “It’s going to be fun and the music is going to be wonderful.”