Over the years, TD Sunfest has presented many thrilling ensembles from Mali, West Africa – arguably, the motherland of jazz and blues – and this summer, as part of AFRIKALIA: African Heart Beats, we welcome BKO Quintet. Comprised of five men of diverse backgrounds and musical influences, the group epitomizes the indomitable African spirit to create music against all odds.
The BKO Quintet story began when founder Aymeric Krol headed to Mali to study drumming with Ibrahima Sarr, who is renowned for his mastery of the djembe (the traditional rope-tuned goatskin drum). There, the men enlisted singers Fassara Sacko (who also plays dunun) and Nfaly Diakité. These two singers have quite different styles, one being more in the urbane griot tradition and, the other, more in the rural donso or Bambara hunter tradition (Diakité made his name singing in animist ceremonies). To laymen, the stylistic vocal differences may seem minimal, but the combination is novel in contemporary Malian music. Rounding out the group is Abdoulaye Kone, virtuoso of the djelingoni (a surprisingly versatile, lute-like instrument). Kone’s psychedelic influences are apparent, and his interplay with Diakité’s bass-toned dansongoni is very telepathic.
BKO Quintet released their album, Bamako Today, in 2012, during the height of the conflict in Mali that threatened to separate the north of the country from the south and further destabilize the entire region. It’s a recording that, through the combination of drums, strings and powerful songs, transports listeners to the heart of contemporary Mali, on the border between tradition and innovation. BKO Quintet has just finished recording a soon-to-be-released new album of outstanding “trade-modern” Malian music. Check bkoquintet.com to find out more.