b. 1958, Thiès, Senegal, West Africa. Koité calls his music danssa-doso, danssa being a popular rhythm from the singer-songwriter’s childhood town of Kayes in Mali and doso designating hunters’ music, one of the oldest and strongest traditions in the region. According to the musician, the juxtaposition is intended to symbolise the music of all Mali’s ethnic groups: ‘In my country we have so many magnificent rhythms and melodies. Many villages and communities have their own kind of music but Malian musicians only play the music of their own ethnic group. But me, I travel everywhere across the Malian musical heritage and my goal is to give value to all these traditions by including them in my own music.’ Drawing on such disparate musical histories alongside subtle Western influences, Koité’s music frequently transcends cultural boundaries and can sound as close to the blues or flamenco as traditional Malian music.
Koité comes from a lineage of griots or revered African historians/musical entertainers. His mother was a griotte and sung at traditional Malian ceremonies while he apparently inherited his passion for music from his grandfather who played djely n’goni, a traditional four-stringed instrument associated with hunters in Mali’s Wassolou region. Koité had planned to study engineering but was diverted to enrol at the Mali’s National Institute of Arts (the INA) in Bamako where he studied from 1978-82. After graduating he was engaged by the Institute as a professor of guitar, a post he filled until 1998. During this time, Koité played with Malian artists such as Toumani Diabaté and Kélétigui Diabaté, a master of the balafon or West African wooden-keyed xylophone who was to later join his band.
In 1988, Koité formed a band Bamada, deriving the moniker from the nickname for residents of Bamako that translates as ‘in the crocodile’s mouth’. The reception given to the band’s first tour outside of Africa, in 1994, prompted the Brussels recording of a well-received debut, Muso Ko. Across a trio of albums - Muso Ko, Ma Ya and Baro - Koité has produced reflective, semi-acoustic, contemporary interpretations of multiple ethnic traditions from around his country. His distinctive guitar style, combining rock or classical techniques, with Malian tunings, produces endearing music that is neither heavily traditional nor emphatically Western.