As TD Sunfest music fans know, Mali, West Africa is a powerhouse of talent. One of the ‘new’ names popping up there is Harouna Samake, a leading exponent of the kamele n’goni (young person’s harp/gourd). NPR African music expert Banning Eyre says, “Samake has long been recognized as a virtuoso player: nimble, fast, creative and skilled, with flashy techniques that produce thrilling pops and slides.”
Harouna first heard his chosen instrument at the age of eight, and began collecting a branch, a calabash, a goatskin and some strings, finally finding an n’goni player who could assemble it for him in exchange for cutting hay for a new mattress. Then, years later, he met blues legend Bonnie Riatt at Festival du Dessert and they jammed by firelight the whole evening. Bonnie liked Harouna’s playing so much that she gave him his first guitar as a gift.
Since 2001, Harouna Samake has toured internationally with the great Salif Keita, and also worked with, among others, Bassekou Kouyate, Blick Bassy and Sali Sidibe, appearing on over 50 albums to date. On his first solo outing (Kamale Blue, released in 2018 on One World Records), subtle twinkling guitar and kamele n’goni lines intertwine with captivating vocals, backed by groovy bass and percussion, resulting in a very spicy and danceable sound. Sung mostly in his native Bambara with some English and French phrasing, Samake’s songs deal with issues like immigration, wealth inequality, gender relations and human rights.