Habib Koité

1958 – MALI / SENEGAL

Biography

“A good kora-player can often make you think you are hearing two or three instruments at the same time”, says Habib Koite. He doesn’t play kora (West African harp), but guitar with a technique inspired by the kora. Habib Koite comes from Senegal, is a member of the Griot Khassongke family, but has lived in Mali for many years. His grandfather was a master of the stringed instrument n’goni, and his father played guitar. His mother is still an active singer and performs at weddings and other festive occasions. Habib Koite began, like so many other African musicians, by emulating others. After further education it was thought he would study engineering but, following his uncle’s advice, he sought a place at the Instituts des Arts in Bamako, Mali’s capitol. There he studied music for four years.

After completing his studies in 1982, he continued to teach guitar at the Institute and worked with several established musicians, among them the kora player, Keletegui Diabate. In 1988 he formed his own group, Bamada, comprised of a few younger Malian musicians. The group soon took up their positions and released their first single in 1991. The song, “Cigarette A Bana” (Finished with Smoking) became a hit in West Africa and can be heard on Koite’s first CD, “Muso Ko”, from 1995. That success led to many performances at international music festivals across Europe and Canada.

Habib Koite plays a kind of Malian fusion, several styles are mixed, wrapped up in modern arrangements, sometimes close to rock and roll. The synthesizer is absent in his music. His disks on the Belgian Contrejour label are extremely well produced, and his musical blending sounds unusually authentic. In his lyrics, he writes emphatically about the African society all around him; there is humour and poetry, West African mythology and symbolism. Habib Koite has been award several prizes at international music festivals around the world.