The griot supergroup have teamed up with the US musicians to fuse classical strings and traditional west African instruments on songs inspired by civil rights activist Mahalia JacksonThe griot supergroup have teamed up with the US musicians to fuse classical strings and traditional west African instruments on songs inspired by civil rights activist Mahalia JacksonThe griot supergroup have teamed up with the US musicians to fuse classical strings and traditional west African instruments on songs inspired by civil rights activist Mahalia JacksonT he first time David Harrington met, they made him cry. The lead violinist and founder of was at the home of a colleague in London where he was to be introduced to the three Malian musicians. The door opened and there stood Hawa Diabaté, who spontaneously broke into a Malian praise song on the threshold. “She was smiling and singing for me, ” Harrington tells me. Her song moved him to tears. Almost five years later, he is still spellbound. “It was incredible to be brought into a world of music I’d never encountered. ”Diabaté’s voice and presence reminded him of American gospel diva and civil rights activist for a moment, he says, “it was like having Jackson herself sing to me”.
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For Diabaté, too, it was a powerful moment of connection. “I sang one of my songs in Bamana [her mother tongue]. A song of women. David is an artist with a big heart, ” she says. “He is like a father.
”The two groups have collaborated on a superb new album,, produced by ethnomusicologist and. It was Durán’s matchmaking that brought them together. Kronos Quartet were looking to collaborate with Malian artists and Durán tapped three griots – hereditary musicians – all from extraordinary musical families, to form a sort of supergroup. Vocalist Diabaté (the daughter of the celebrated singer Kassé-Mady Diabaté) is backed by the (xylophone) played by Fodé Lassana Diabaté, and the bass n’goni (lute) played by Mamadou Kouyaté. “I thought they would complement the sound of the quartet and would bring out the ‘classical’ side of the [west Aftican] repertoire, ” Durán says.
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Their lineup, too, is a traditional one, a format that, along with the traditional music they perform, is an endangered species in contemporary Mali. Making music with a Malian supergroup is all in a day’s work for Kronos. The quartet has worked with musical partners from all over the world, from folk and pop to jazz and world music. But, says Harrington, the enchantment of that first meeting led to something special on Ladilikan. “The interaction felt really natural, ” he says.
“We felt appreciated, and we hope they did too for the immense tradition they embody with every note they play. It’s one of our most beautiful collaborations. ”None of the trio had ever heard a string quartet, nor were they familiar with western classical music. Lassana Diabaté confesses that he was anxious how his percussive balafon would blend with Kronos’s strings. When the seven musicians first sat down to rehearse together, he was particularly curious to hear what Kronos had done with one of his own compositions, Samuel, for solo balafon.
Durán’s album notes pick up the story: “A cascade of delicate interlocking melodies, some bowed, some plucked, began flowing. Lassana’s jaw dropped in astonishment. When it was over he had tears in his eyes. He rushed over to grab David’s hand.
‘You play it better than me! !