A Superbly Original Guitarist

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Wednesday March 13, 2019

From AfroPop Worldwide

Habib Koite, Derek Gripper and African Strings
By: Banning Eyre

A special concert unfolded at the Somerville Theatre in Boston on Sun., March 10. […] Koite and his percussionist have a connection deepened and burnished over many years recording and performing together. Also, having played a number of shows on this tour without the expected support of Bassekou’s crew, the duo has clearly got its groove on. Koite has always been a superbly original guitarist, a master really. He plays fingerstyle on nylon strings, and these days, he likes to enlarge his sound using a harmonizer. He can drive galloping rhythms all on his own with his ferocious fingers, or coax bell-like tones from his guitar to create moody swells of harmony. He is also a spectacular singer, with a velvety midrange and sharp crying attack in his high register. Many of these subtleties are hard to fully appreciate when Koite performs with his wonderful band, Bamada.

So it was a real treat to experience his art stripped to its essentials, with Kone on djembe, calabash and self-styled trap set, perfectly and effortlessly in synch with the master every step of the way. There were a few new songs, but most were classic repertoire, albeit reimagined. Koite opened with an expansive take on ‘Imada,’ and ended with a rollicking reworking of his 1991 hit ‘Cigarette Abana,’ during which he mostly prowled the stage and through the audience, with majestic fusillades of guitar virtuosity exploding from his busy fingers. Midway, his slow blues ‘Foro Bana’ morphed into a takamba rhythm from the north of Mali.

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