Habib Koité Glimmers at UCSD

Habib Koité (photo by Daniel Sheehan)

One of seventeen siblings, Habib Koité is the world renowned master guitarist from Mali. His self-taught style came from watching his parents play, “it washed off on me.” His path studying engineering was derailed by an uncle, who insisted Koité study at the National Institute of the Arts. After graduating top of his class, recognition of Koité’s skills began to spread beyond Mali. He released several successful albums on the esteemed Putumayo World Music label.

Koité’s compelling performance was well-received at UCSD’s ArtPower concert, an intimate setting for world class concerts. Early in the evening he triggered a call and response reaction with the audience, and made great use of unamplified voice when he stepped away from the microphone. Accompanied only by percussionist Mama Kone, Koité was nonetheless able to generate a wide sonic range of music.

Habib Koité (photo by Dirk Leunis)

Percussionist Kone was nimble and responsive to Koité’s sinuous guitar licks, which were sometimes chiming but always fluid. He tunes his guitar to the pentatonic scale.

Koité is unique in that he blends pan-Malian styles; the fusion is enveloping. He spoke often about life in Mali, sharing traditions and customs.

At one point Koité stepped up to edge of the stage to acknowledge a dancer who emerged from the seated audience. Later, his cordless guitar enabled Koité to bob and weave into the audience, interacting at close range with more than a few lucky fans.

Koité spoke about getting together the next day with Jackson Browne and others to record in support of Artists for Peace and Justice.  


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.