Trio Da Kali aims to keep alive the cultural roots of music that dates to the 13th century.
As griots from the West African country of Mali, Trio Da Kali offers the sounds of Mande tradition through the powerful vocals of Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate as well as ancient acoustic instruments, including Lassana Diabate's balafon (xylophone) and Mamadou Kouyate's bass ngoni (lute). They are billed as a griot "super-group" by the Aga Khan Music Initiative, which commissioned a collaborative album, "Ladilikan," with strings artists Kronos Quartet.
In an interview translated by co-manager Violet Diallo, the group said they are “the closest to the court music that has been played to rulers and counselors from several hundred years ago.”
A griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician charged with the upkeep of oral traditions. They often are community leaders and royal advisers. Da Kali translates as "to give a pledge."
While honoring the customs of the past, Trio Da Kali’s sound has also been compared to that of modern artists, like civil rights activist and singer Mahalia Jackson. The groups adds that this is also a reflection of Mande music, though, as they share the same ancestors.
Reaching open-minded listeners is one of their goals during upcoming appearances at the Savannah Music Festival, including two shows March 30 on a double bill with Derek Gripper’s African Strings Project, as well as a solo lunchtime show March 31.
“Our audiences will hear a variety of songs, from love to the praise of Emperor Sundiata [Keita, founder of the Mali empire] and advice for all,” the group told Do Savannah.
Plans for 2018 include a long tour followed by a short break in Mali, then on to Australia next year, as well as new CD in the works.
Of all the places they’ve visited to play, Trio Da Kali says the U.S., Mexico and Canada are the favorites, “and we are ready to return to them whenever we are asked.”
— Sierra Johnson contributed to this article.