Bassekou Kouyate is a rock star, and not just in his native Africa. He joined forces with Ngoni Ba — a band of mostly family members including three ngoni players — for his latest album, I Speak Fula, released on Sub Pop Records in February. The Independent (UK) calls them, "The best rock 'n' roll band in the world."
What's a ngoni?
The stringed instrument is an ancient ancestor of the banjo, used for storytelling in griot (a West African poet) culture since the 13th century. Kouyate revolutionized the instrument in the 1980s, when he turned it on its side like a guitar. He's also invented a bass ngoni and added extra strings to the instruments to make them more harmonically flexible. Ngoni Ba is the first group built around not one, but four of the instruments.
You'll hear a lot of influences in Kouyate's music. Obviously, it's distinctly African, but you'll also hear elements of twangy Indian music, bluegrass (thanks to the ngoni), and blues — especially blues. The pentatonic Bambara music they specialize in is a direct forerunner of classic American blues.
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