Amadou Kouyaté Ensemble
The Kouyaté name is revered among noted West African musicians and performers, regarded as one of the original families of the djeli tradition–a caste of musicians and oral historians found throughout West Africa, more commonly known by the French term griot. Keepers of oral and musical traditions, djeli are also known to play a range of instruments and uphold venerated positions within the Mandé and Malinké peoples of the former Malian empire. While Amadou Kouyaté was born in Washington D.C., he upholds his far-reaching family legacy as the 150th generation of the Kouyaté lineage, studying and performing Manding music from the tender age of three.
Having dedicated his life to his musical heritage, Amadou is a versatile and dynamic musician, playing the djembe and koutiro drums. He is perhaps most known for his nuanced and highly melodious approach to playing the 21-string kora–a long-necked lute-harp that is one of the most important instruments in Manding culture–which he learned first with his father, Djimo Kouyaté, and other masterful djeli. Impassioned by his drive to educate and reconnect different communities of the African Diaspora stateside, Amadou’s studies took him to Mali, Senegal, Guinea, and Côte d’Ivoire. An ambassador of West African culture in his own right, Amadou was an Artist in Residence at the Strathmore Music Center in Bethesda and is currently on faculty at American University, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Goucher College.
Amadou blends the ancient knowledge and techniques of his family with contemporary sounds, building 13th-century songs along with original jazz and blues-inspired compositions into his performances. He has performed as both a solo and a collaborating artist worldwide, featured at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Bristol Academy and Isle of White (England), and Tim Festival (Brazil). For his work, he has received many accolades, including a Maryland State Arts Council (MSAC) Governor’s Citation, and an MSAC Folklife Apprenticeship Award (2012-13, and 2020-21).
For the 81st National Folk Festival, Amadou, on the kora, will be joined by Atiba Rory (percussion) and Diandre Dukes (guitar).