Instrumentalist Harouna Samake Dazzles Crowds At World Music Expo

Jan 8, 2019
Originally published on January 8, 2019 5:21 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Every year in a different city, thousands of people in the world music community gather to celebrate and search for up-and-coming artists. That includes our music reviewer Banning Eyre.

He traveled to the Canary Islands for the most recent expo which is known among insiders as WOMEX. He says that competition for the delegates' attention is always stiff. But one young musician from Mali stood out to him above the rest.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Over four days and nights, we heard classic rumba from the Congo...

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UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: ...Anatolian psychedelia from Turkey, vocal harmony from France and from Mali, Harouna Samake, showing off his new band and promoting their debut album, "Kamale Blues."

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HAROUNA SAMAKE: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Samake grew up in a village in the south of Mali. That's Wassoulou country. From childhood, he showed unusual skill at playing a local six-string gourd harp called kamale n'goni, literally young man's harp. It's a featured instrument in the bluesy Wassoulou sound.

Samake explains that his instrument is a close relative of the donso n'goni, or hunter's harp, which has been used in ritual settings going back to the hunter-gatherer culture of ancient West Africa.

SAMAKE: (Through translator) The kamale n'goni and the donso n'goni, they're basically the same. But the difference is the tuning. The donso n'goni is tuned very low. The kamale n'goni is tuned high. The donso n'goni is played for the hunters, but then the young people thought, can't we do something to bring the music to the youth? So the kamale n'goni is for the youth.

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SAMAKE: (Playing kamale n'goni).

EYRE: Samake has long been recognized as a virtuoso player, nimble, fast, creative and skilled and flashy techniques that produce thrilling pops and slides. He showed off his prowess on an instrumental number in the WOMEX radio studio.

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SAMAKE: (Playing kamale n'goni).

EYRE: Samake's wife sings in the band. And on this song, they exchange playful banter, evoking the dramas of marriage, an institution Samake offers sage advice about, carefully noting the responsibilities of a husband and wife.

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ASSETOU DIAKITE: (Singing in foreign language).

SAMAKE: (Singing in foreign language).

DIAKITE: (Singing in foreign language).

SAMAKE: (Singing in foreign language).

DIAKITE: (Singing in foreign language).

SAMAKE: (Laughter).

EYRE: I've attended eight or nine WOMEXes over the years, and the buzz around Samake's group was palpable. That means we may well see them on an American stage this summer. For NPR News, I'm Banning Eyre.

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SAMAKE: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.