The story and the song

The story and the song

Musical narratives

The story and the song

In an Indian parallel, Malian musician Cheick Hamala Diabete would be considered a ‘Harikatha’ exponent for he easily shifts between a song and its story. With centuries of knowledge in musical narratives, he recently made his way to Bengaluru and presented a power-packed concert at Windmills Craftworks to give the audience a glimpse of African music and the oral stories that the music explains by inextricably weaving the two.

He hails from the ‘griot’ tradition which is known for blending history, story, song and dance in every performance at a traditional gathering. The Washington-based performer says, “ I have been in America for a long time now and collaborate with many artistes there. I play a lot of blues and jazz but don’t let go of my traditional music. I hail from the ‘griot’ tradition and we were born to tell stories.

We talk about our race, the rulers, the common people and educate the audience through our music itself so that it becomes a way of life.” He makes the two seem like a cakewalk. When asked if he faces any challenge while putting up such innovative performances, he shakes his head and says that it is his way of paying tribute to his past and the people he meets. “I like fusing ideas and songs. I like to present my experiences through stories and songs.”

He is also known for his spitfire strings, magical sounds he makes with the percussion and pleasing lyrics. He plays the ‘ngoni’, a plucked West African lute, which he calls “the ancestor of the banjo” and released an album that fused his native Malian roots with the urbane contexts of his American hometown. He explains, “‘Ngoni’ is the father of the banjo. I can hear and make this connection all the time. Every song I play on the ‘ngoni’, I put onto the banjo and it works perfectly. This a perfect example of music beyond borders as there are many similarities.”

Apart from capturing his journey from Mali to America and helping people understand how the music has evolved along the way, he says that he also loves Indian music and talks about the huge Bollywood market in Mali. “I love the song ‘Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein...’,” he says, breaking into the tune. “We watch so many Hindi movies there and are big fans of Amitabh Bachchan. I would like to sing for Bollywood and play with Indian musicians sometime soon.”

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