4/11 Fri 8 PM Mamadou Diabate Ensemble

Date(s) - Friday 04/11/2008
8:00 pm - 10:30 pm

Mamadou DiabeteGrammy-nominated kora master Mamadou Diabate from the West African country of Mali performs live with his ensemble as part of the 2008 African Film Festival at 8 PM on Friday, April 11, 2008. Because The Sanctuary for Independent Media has been shut down by the City of Troy in an action currently under investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union, historic A.M.E. Zion Church at 189 Fifth Avenue (corner of 103rd Street in north Troy) has offered sanctuary to the Sanctuary. Admission for the all-ages show is $10. Call (518) 272-2390, email [email protected], or visit www.MediaSanctuary.org for directions and more information.

The Mamadou Diabate Ensemble includes Mamadou Diabate on kora, Balla Kouyate on balafon, Baye Kouyate on talking drum and calabash, and Noah Jarrett on bass.

Mamadou Diabate is a master of the kora, the ancient 21-string West African harp.

He was born in 1975 in Kita, a Malian city long known as a center for the arts and culture of the Manding people of West Africa. As the name Diabate indicates, Mamadou comes from a family of griots, or jelis as they are known among the Manding. Jelis are more than just traditional musicians. They use music and sometimes oratory to preserve and sustain people’s consciousness of the past, a past that stretches back to the 13th century when the Manding king Sunjata Keita consolidated the vast Empire of Mali, covering much of West Africa. The stories of these glory days and the times since remain important touchstones for people today, not only for the Manding, but for many citizens of Mali, Guinea, Gambia, and Senegal. So to be born to a distinguished jeli family in Kita is already an auspicious beginning.

Mamadou’s father Djelimory played the kora, the jeli’s venerable 21-string harp. He was widely known as N’fa Diabate, performing in the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali and recording on the National Radio of Mali. At the age of four, Mamadou went to live with his father in Bamako, where the Ensemble was based. When it came time for him to return to Kita and go to school, Mamadou knew that the kora was his destiny. His father had taught him how to play the instrument, and from there he listened and watched and devoted himself to practicing the kora, to the point that his mother worried that he was not concentrating enough on school. When she took it away, it only reduced his interest in studying, and he quickly resorted to making his own kora so he could continue.

Before long, Mamadou left school and began playing kora for local jeli singers, and traveling throughout the region to play at the ceremonies where modern jelis ply their trade, mostly weddings and baptisms. When he was fifteen, Mamadou won first prize for his kora playing in a regional competition and instantly became something of a local celebrity. The next year, he went to Bamako, and under the tutelage of his famous kora playing cousin, Toumani Diabate, he worked the jeli circuit, backing singers at neighborhood weddings and baptisms and entertaining the powerful at the city’s posh Amitié Hotel. Toumani gave his cousin the nickname "Djelika Djan" meaning "Tall Griot," a reference to Mamadou’s impressive physical stature. The name has stuck.

In 1996, a touring group from the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali offered Mamadou the chance to travel to the United States with a group of Manding musicians and cultural authorities. Following a successful tour, Mamadou decided to continue his work in the United States and, since then, he’s made his home in and around New York. Mamadou gets frequent invitations to perform with visiting Malian stars including Ami Koita, Tata Bambo Kouyate, Kandia Kouyate, and Babani Koné. He has performed at the United Nations, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Museum, and at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. In addition, he’s delved into uncharted waters, jamming with all manner of expert musicians, including jazz luminaries Donald Byrd and Randy Weston, Zimbabwean legend Thomas Mapfumo, and blues masters Eric Bibb and Guy Davis. Mamadou’s recording credits have expanded as he has laid tracks with artists ranging from Irish soloist Susan McKeown, jazz bassist Ben Allison, and Benin’s celebrated Angélique Kidjo.

Mamadou says that his father advised him to listen to all the best kora players and to learn from each one. The kora itself came to Mali from Gabu, the region centered between Gambia, Senegal, and Guinea Bissau, and the Malian kora tradition has always put a premium on holding onto the old ways while constantly innovating and developing the art.

He recorded his debut, "Tunga" (Alula Records, 2000), where he was joined by an impressive cast of handpicked musicians and friends who helped him show both reverence for the traditional sounds of his craft and to display an adventurous spirit in keeping with the practice of always furthering the griot’s art.

Mamadou Diabate’s solo kora recording ‘Behmanka’ (World Village, 2005) was nominated in the 2005 48th Annual GRAMMY Awards 2005 World Music category.

Mamadou Diabate’s kora recording "Heritage" (World Village, 2006) showcases his ensemble work with trio. Heritage features Mamadou’s touring band, Guinean guitarist Djikoryam Mory Kante, balafonist Bala Kouyaté, Baye Kouyaté on calabash and talking drum, and on bass, American jazz musician Noah Jarrett.

The location of this event in north Troy has special significance.

Devoted to religious, educational and social causes, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and its members have been instrumental in many of the freedom struggles of this nation, dating back to the days when former slaves Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman led the first wave of Black social activism. Since that time, A.M.E. Zion members have made other significant contributions. AME Zion Bishop Alexander Walters, along with Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, helped to found the NAACP. Bishop Walters was also a pioneering member of the Pan-African Congress, and many of the denomination’s clergy and lay people were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement of the ’60s.

A.M.E. Zion Church made the salvation of the whole person–mind, body and spirit–its top priority. At the crux of its ministry lay racial justice, peace and harmony, thus earning it the title, the Freedom Church.

As the ministry expanded, so did the denomination’s emphasis on education. "In order to succeed in American society as productive citizens, we [the newly freed slaves] need to become an educated citizenry," an early AME Zion member once said. In keeping with that goal, the Church maintains four colleges and universities today, which are Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C., Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, S.C., and Lomax-Hannon Junior College in Greenville, Alabama, and A.M.E. Zion University in Monrovia, Liberia. Additionally it maintains two theological seminaries, Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, NC and Hood Speaks Theological Seminary in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

Along with its emphasis on ministry and social change here in the United States, the denomination has focused much of its attention and energies on outreach abroad. To date, the A.M.E. Zion Church has member churches on all continents except Australia. In West Africa, in particular, the denomination has set up numerous schools and clinics throughout Ghana and Nigeria. The Church also has facilities in Liberia, though some of its main structures have been destroyed by civil war. Overseas missions are a crucial component of the A.M.E. Zion Church’s outreach, but the denomination believes in charity starting at home. That is why, over the years, several individual churches have implemented programs to help families to find low-income housing, jobs, financial planning assistance, health care and day care services. "Our concern is for the whole person," says Bishop Cecil Bishop, the (retired former) senior bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church. "We have a holistic approach and a holistic gospel. We don’t feel that we live in a kind of compartmentalized sense, but that life is a complete whole. So we have to be concerned about all of those amenities of life that help make up wholeness in an individual."

The Sanctuary for Independent Media is a telecommunications production facility dedicated to community media arts, located in an historic former church in north Troy, NY. The Sanctuary hosts screening, production and performance facilities, training in media production and a meeting space for artists, activists and independent media makers of all kinds. On March 11, 2008 the City of Troy closed The Sanctuary for Independent Media for alleged code violations just hours after the opening of a controversial series focusing on government intimidation and censorship under the guise of counter-terrorism. While the matter is being investigated by the NY Civil Liberties Union, public events are being presented at Sanctuaries-in-exile throughout the Capital Region.

Local presentation of the Mamadou Diabate Ensemble is co-sponsored by the AME Zion Church and made possible by volunteer labor, small financial contributions from hundreds of patrons of The Sanctuary For Independent Media.

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Mamadou Diabate website:

Full bio, reviews, audio clips, and hi-res images of Mamadou Diabate: