Habib Koité & Bamada
Malian guitarist Habib Koité is one of Africa’s most popular and recognized musicians. Habib comes from a noble line of Khassonké griots, traditional troubadors who provide wit, wisdom, and musical entertainment at social gatherings as well as special events. Habib grew up surrounded by seventeen brothers and sisters, and developed his unique guitar style accompanying his griot Mother. He inherited his passion for music from his paternel grandfather who played the kamele n’goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters from the Wassolou region of Mali. "Nobody really taught me to sing or to play the guitar," explains Habib, "I watched my parents, and it washed off on me."
Habib was headed for a career as an engineer, but on the insistence of his uncle, who recognized Habib's musical talent, he enrolled at the National Institute of Arts (INA) in Bamako, Mali. In 1978, after only six months, he was made conductor of INA Star, the school's prestigious band. He studied music for four years, graduating at the top of his class in 1982. Upon graduation, the INA hired him as a guitar teacher. During his studies, Habib had the opportunity to perform and play with a series of recognized Malian artists, including Kélétigui Diabaté and Toumani Diabaté. He sang and played on Toumani Diabaté's 1991 release Shake the World (Sony), and Kélétigui Diabaté later became a fulltime member of Habib’s band.
Habib takes some unique approaches to playing the guitar. He tunes his instrument to the pentatonic scale and plays on open strings as one would on a kamale n'goni. At other times, Habib plays music that sounds closer to the blue style he studied under Khalilou Traoré, a veteran of the legendary Afro-Cuban band Maravillas du Mali.
Unlike the griots, his singing style is restrained and intimate with varying cadenced rhythms and melodies.
Mali has rich and diverse musical traditions, all of which have many regional variations and styles that are particular to the local cultures. Habib is unique because he brings together different styles, creating a new pan-Malian approach that reflects his open-minded interest in all types of music. The predominant style played by Habib is based on the danssa, a popular rhythm from his native city of Keyes. He calls his version danssa doso, a Bambara term he coined that combines the name of the popular rhythm with the word for hunter’s music (doso), one of Mali’s most powerful and ancient musical traditions. “I put these two words together to symbolize the music of all ethnic groups in Mali. I’m curious about all the music in the world, but I make music from Mali. In my country, we have so many beautiful rhythms and melodies. Many villages and communities have their own kind of music. Usually, Malian musicians play only their own ethnic music, but me, I go everywhere. My job is to take all these traditions and to make something with them, to use them in my music.”
In 1988, Habib formed his own group, Bamada (a nickname for residents of Bamako that roughly translates, "in the mouth of the crocodile"), with young Malian musicians who had been friends since childhood.
In 1991, Habib won first prize at the Voxpole Festival in Perpignan, France, which earned him enough money to finance the production of two songs. One of those tracks, “Cigarette A Bana (The Cigarette is Finished)” was a hit throughout West Africa. After the release of another successful single entitled, "Nanalé (The Swallow),” Habib received the prestigious Radio France International (RFI) Discoveries prize. This award made it possible for the group to undertake their first tour outside of Africa during the summer of 1994.
In 1994, Habib met his current manager, Belgian Michel De Bock, director of the management and production company Contre-Jour. Working together, they recorded his first album Muso Ko. Upon its release the album quickly reached #2 in the European World Music Charts. From that point forward, Habib became a fixture on the European festival circuit and began to spread his infectious music and high energy shows around the world. Habib has played at most of Europe’s major venues and festivals.
Habib’s second album, Ma Ya, was released in Europe in 1998 to widespread acclaim. It spent an amazing three months at the top spot on the World Charts Europe. A subtle production which revealed a more acoustic, introspective side of Habib’s music, Ma Ya was released in North America by Putumayo World Music in early 1999 and with sales over 100,000 units worldwide, this success quickly helped establish, Habib as one of world music’s most exciting new figures the critical and commercial response to Ma Ya was tremendous. In 2001, Habib Koité and Bamada became some of a select few African artists to appear on Late Night with David Letterman, one of America’s most popular television variety shows Habib’s artistry and powerful personality earned him some fans such as Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, both of whom ended up visiting Habib in Mali. They have both done a great deal to support Habib’s music, by promoting private events designed to attract new audiences and even performing live with Habib on stage. Habib and his band even made a guest appearance on Bonnie Raitt’s 2002 album Silver Lining, in which Bonnie and Habib performed a duet on the co-written
song “Back Around.”
In 2001, Habib Koite and Bamada released their third album, Baro. The recording was also a huge success, selling more than 100,000 copies worldwide and further expanding Habib’s global audience. One of the keys to Habib’s success has been is dedication to touring. A true road warrior, Habib Koite & Bamada have performed nearly 1500 shows since 1994 and appeared on some of the world’s most prestigious concert stages.
Habib has also participated in a number of memorable theme tours alongside other artists. In the spring 2000, he toured Europe as an invited guest with the legendary avant-garde jazz group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. In the fall of 2000, Habib participated in the “Voices of Mali” tour with Oumou Sangare. In 2006 & 2007, Habib has also taken part in the Desert Blues project with fellow Malians Tartit and Afel Boucoum and Acoustic Africa tour with South African troubadour Vusi Mahlasela and the rising young star Dobet Gnahoré from the Ivory Coast.
Habib Koite & Bamada’s transfixing performances have endeared them to an ever-growing audience, and in 2003 they released Fôly!, a double CD of live material.
Devoted fans have waited a long time for Habib to return to the recording studio.
In 2007 the band was on the road to present their new album Afriki, a great combination of the Malian rhythmes, a meeting between tradition and more contemporay waves, with nice & intimate melodies. Recorded between Bamako, Brussels and Vermont (USA), this album is like a bridge between those 3 continents as well.
For 2008, new adventures for Habib and the Bamada; a mandinguo opera created in collaboration Mondomiw and with 2.500 enfants in the South of France who learned some songs written by Habib and presented in nice venues like the Palace of the Festival in Cannes. After the big success, they made it again the year after in 2009.
In 2010, a new version of the project Acoustic Africa was presented in Europe, USA & Africa, with Afel Bocoum (Mali) & Oliver Mtukudzi (Zimbabwe). A live CD & DVD were recorded during those tours. During the Fall 2011 & 2013, Habib participated to the Dutch project 5 Great Guitars, created by Jan Kuiper, with 2 periods of tour with more than 30 concerts each. In 2013, they were touring with two great Brasilian voices for a project called African Samba.
In 2012, Habib recorded in Bamako Brothers in Bamako; in collaboration with the US bluesman Eric Bibb who met in 199 for the promotion of the Putumyao compilation ‘From Mali to Memphis’. Because of this album, they were able to be on the road in 2012 and 2013 in both Europe & USA.
During 2013, Habib prepared his new opus Soô, recorded in Bamako and Brussels with somme new musicians (Issa Kone – Guitar & banjo, Charly Coulibaly – keyboard & back vocals, Mama Kone – percussions & vocals). This album was released in 2014 and presented in USA & Europe.
In 2015, Habib was on the road with his band and was also a sideman to US bluesman Eric Bibb during the Fall. In spring of 2016, there was a new Acoustic Africa tour with Vusi Mahlasela for a new adventure, 10 years after their first tour together in USA.
Between his function as Ambassador of Unicef in Mali for which he is doing his best for the campain of education and his hotel in Bamako, he cannot forget his public for new tours with his band.
Colors of world culture on the canvas of African rhythms..
Sahel's multilingual lead vocalists and creator, Jean-Francis Varre, firmly believes that the African Diaspora is closely linked through its shared rhythms and melodic styles. In addition, because this heritage is commonly tied to the English, Spanish, French and Portuguese languages, he uses the music of the African Diaspora to form cultural bridges around the world. A self taught multi instrumentalist, Jean-Francis has toured with British soul icon Omar and Grammy nominated salsa orchestra Gonzalo Grau y la Clave Secreta and a variety of projects in the US, Europe, Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Jean-Francis is joined by drummer Malick 'Papa' Diouf, bassist Stewart Bernard, vocalist (and sister) Aline Varre, percussionists Malari Moore and Jabari Exum, and guitarist Dokun Oke to form a multicultural musical team worthy of the name Sahel. The unit has built a reputation of keeping audiences dancing while seamlessly varying styles and jumping from one culture to the next.
Sahel, like the legendary land that is its namesake, is a crossroad of musical genres influenced by African culture around the globe; inspired by tradition and dedicated to the progress of music that moves the world.