Moussa Kanouté is a singer and musician who hails from Senegal. We recently heard him play the kora (a 21-string bridge harp) at Sunugal, a restaurant in Paris that features Senegalese cuisine. As is often the case in African restaurants, one or more musicians will appear mid-meal and begin singing and playing traditional instruments. As we are dining more and more frequently at these establishments, we always look forward to this part of the evening.
We enjoyed listening to Moussa’s music so much that we asked the proprietor of the restaurant, Alpha Diallo, to put us in touch with him. We arranged to meet him at the restaurant on a Tuesday evening, so that we could have the opportunity to talk with him.
Before we met him, we didn’t know that Moussa was a griot—a singer and narrator in African culture—who was born into a family of griots. We learned that both men and women can be griots and that they perform a number of important functions in villages. The most important, perhaps, is the conveyance of oral history—they tell stories and communicate information about important events that occurred in the past. The role as a storyteller is an important one. It provides cohesion between the distant past and the present and helps carry forward traditions and customs.
Another role that griots perform is that of a counselor or facilitator in family and community disputes. They use their communication skills to explore ways to resolve conflicts among couples, family members, and neighbors.
Moussa has been playing the kora professionally since the age of ten. He told us that many members of his family play the instrument as well. I found information on a Web site indicating that Moussa was apprenticed to his grandfather, who taught him to play the instrument.
Moussa has traveled all over the world to perform, including West Africa, the United States, Japan, and Morocco. In San Francisco, a recording company engaged him to play for a CD that it wanted to produce. Called Dance of the Kora, it features not only his singing and music on the African harp, but also singers and musicians who accompany him on the soprano sax, the guitar, the flute, and other instruments. We find the lilting music of the kora compelling and uplifting, and Moussa’s singing reassuring. Samples of the recording can be found here.
Moussa has been living in France since 1983. He performs regularly in the evenings at Sunugal.
3, rue Crespin du Gast
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