Hailing from Guinea, West Africa, master kora player N’Faly Kouyate took to Camden’s Jazz Café stage last night. Reminiscent of a prize-fighter and resplendent in a white robe he gave the audience a highly energised set of his own brand of fusion, a style he refers to as Afrotronix. Like his fellow countryman Mory Kante, Kouyate has forged his own brand of kora music, fusing both traditional griot music and storytelling with contemporary, western dance music sensibilities, best known possibly for his collaboration with the Afro Celt Sound System,
N’Faly Kouyate belongs to a Mandingue griot family, the Konkoba of West Africa, and Mandingue music and history are vitally important to N’Faly. His father, Konkoba Kabinet Kouyate, went through a series of tests to become a griot of the Mandingue tradition. By explaining Mandingue music and stories in his performances N’Faly has taken on the mission of describing culture to his audiences and continuing the legacy of his father.
An electronic drum kit and a combination of synthesizer keyboards and programming gave the music a sense of 1990s club life, whilst a lyrical and theatrical dancer evoked more of a New Romantic feel. Nevertheless, the band managed to produce an up-to-date Afro-tech sound.
Guesting alongside Kouyate for some of the evening was his long time friend and leader of The Dhol Foundation, Johnny Kalsi. Both Kouyate and his wife Muriel, who played the djembe, took turns to playfully duel with Kalsi before two of his dhol protégés joined him for a drumming Bhangra number. Kouyate and his band then marched back on to stage in a military tinted overture to the emotive ‘Ventes d’Armes’. “Stop selling arms, we’ve had enough”, sang Kouyate, speaking for us all. Underpinning his music is a consistent, socio-political message, a plea for global bullying to cease and for more to be done for the impoverished masses.
The evening culminated with a funky edge, Kouyate utilising a wah wah effect on his kora with the track ‘Dininfin’, one of many from his latest album, ‘Change’. He thanked many people as the band played out. Rapturous applause in return proved that the thanks were truly mutual.