HABIB KOITÉ & BAMADA | New York, Le Poisson Rouge

Decked out in shirts as bright and beaming as their smiles, Habib Koité and his band took to the stage of the LPR to bring a slice of Malian sunshine to the distinctly winter-y Manhattan evening.

Backed by Bamada, Koité’s troubadour instinct is plumped and polished into multi-layered songs that are evocative of his home, which happens to be the name of his most recent album (Soô). The set is broken up by warm narration by Habib who is happy to tell impromptu stories and shake hands from the stage. The crowd who were already delighted to see him and the band are charmed even more by these personal touches as a sense of a community party takes hold of the room.

The West African tunings and rhythms that sit on top of each other give the music a sometimes hypnotic feel with the repetition broken by a drum break or solo on the armpit drum. Later on in the set, 3 of the band’s 5 musicians join Habib on vocals creating true vocal warmth and depth, adding to the distinctive high, nimble sound of Habib’s melody lines. This naturally leads to some audience call and response which the room is only too glad to join in with as the smiles and dancing around the room grow ever more enthused.

After inviting a member of the audience to dance with them on stage, the band feign to leave before returning to give their fans one last rendition of Wassiyé (from 1997’s Ma Ya). It is a triumphant way for Habib to round-off the evening, demonstrating the enduring power of a great song and a long-running relationship with a global audience.

 Habib Koité is on tour now in North American and then Europe. Full dates here.

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