Malian legend Bassekou Kouyaté and his band Ngoni Ba are one of the most exciting acts in African music today, and they’re making their return to Australia in 2018 with appearances at Sydney Festival and their first Victorian headline shows at Howler in Melbourne. With a sound that is the living, breathing, and modern music of Mali, fuelled by powerful electric blues, Bassekou Kouyaté demands to be heard.
Hey thanks for chatting with Forté. Your album ‘Ba Power’ has been incredibly well received since its release, with many noting its power and raw emotion. In Bambara, “Ba” means “big” or “group”. Do you find those words to be constant motivation for the band in how it affects your albums and performances?
My original name is Sekou, but the people gave me the name Ba-Sekou. It’s an honour as it’s a name for respected people. [In terms of] Ngoni ba: normally we play with one or two Ngoni’s in a group. But I brought it up to four Ngoni’s together, which gives a big sound.
You’ve shared the stage with the likes of Paul McCartney and Damon Albarn, while also playing shows such as Glastonbury, Roskilde, and Fuji Rock Festival. Are there any experiences that stand out above the rest?
The collaboration with Paul McCartney and Damon Albarn inspired me a lot – great people and fantastic musicians who liked my music and are very open minded. Festivals like Glastonbury, where I saw a lot of different musicians, inspired me definitely. I saw that the young generation likes rock music, played with a lot of energy and it inspired me to integrate this style into my music.
In regards to African music, where would you like to see it progress in mainstream culture?
A lot of musical styles, as the blues and jazz are coming originally from Africa and have been exported. I have no problem with combining our music with new styles, but we have to keep our traditions. That is why I am using traditional instruments and bringing them into a new context. That’s exactly what I’m fighting for – keeping our tradition but at the same time being open to new ways.
Thanks again for chatting with us, any last hints regarding what you’re currently working on?
Thank you! I just recorded a new album which will be released in 2018. I’m really happy with the recording and I think that you’ll like it. Besides that, I want to open a music school in the village I was born. Also, to fight against the terrorism – those who come to Mali to destroy everything which our grandparents built up. They wanted to prohibit music and arts. I want to build this school to fight against it. It will not only be a music school but we will also teach all kinds of art, starting from building instruments, to dance, theatre, etc. I want the young generation to stay with our traditions and with the African culture.
When & Where: Howler, Melbourne – January 18 & Meeniyan Town Hall, Victoria – January 20.