Homer Alaska - Arts

Story last updated at 8:05 PM on Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Three guitars, three voices, three cultures

African musicians perform

By Michael Armstrong
Staff Writer


Photo by Renee Missel

Malian musicians Habib Koite, left, and Afel Bocoum, center, perform with Zimbabwean musician Oliver Mtukudzi, right, in Acoustic Africa.

Three acoustic guitars. Three world-class musicians. Three cultures. Sunday night, they all come together when Habib Koite, Afel Bocoum and Oliver Mtukudzi perform for Acoustic Africa at the Mariner Theatre.

Though both Koite and Bocoum hail from Mali in northwest Saharan Africa, Koite is from southern Mali and Bocoum from northern Mali. Mtukudzi, known as "Tuku" to his fans, is from Zimbabwe in southern Africa.

"It's a different world," Koite said of the two Malian cultures. With Mtukudzi, "We are like three countries together."

Koite, on tour in Napa, Calif., did a phone interview last week with the Homer News and KBBI public radio.

Distant as the three musicians might be, for the Acoustic Africa tour all three headliners perform on stage together throughout the concert with several musicians from their larger bands. Koite, Bocoum and Mtukudzi play four songs each from their own traditions as well as some popular African songs, like Miriam Makeba's "Malaika." The sets are a mix of solos and collaborations.

Acoustic Africa

Habib Koite, Afel Bocoum and Oliver Mtukudzi

With Abdoul Wahab Berthe, Souleyman Ann, Brehima Cisse, Mamoudou Kelly and Philip Tsikirai


7 p.m. April 3


Mariner Theatre


$40 general admission, $35 Homer Council on the Arts members

On sale at HCOA and the Homer Bookstore

"We are lucky because things go so well," Koite said of the melding of musicians. "Sometimes it can be impossible to bring bands from different parts together."

Koite, Bocoum and Mtukudzi lead the songs with their strong vocals and guitar playing, but they're backed by traditional instruments like the Malian kamale n'goni, a four-stringed instrument, or the Zimbabwean mbira, the steel key finger-and-thumb instrument.

Koite and Mtukudzi have known each other going back to 1997, when Koite opened for Mtukudzi at a gig in Harare, Zimbabwe. They're both ambassadors for the popularity of African world music, as brought to the United States through the Afropop radio show and the Putamayo recording label.

"Since this time I'm very close to him," Koite said of his friendship with Mtukudzi.

Malians and Zimbabwean have been surprised at how close those seemingly disparate sounds can be, Koite said.

"Some music from Zimbabwe are like some Mandinka Malian music," he said. "It's really a surprise for us when the mbira player plays something, I say, 'Oh, oh, this is Malian music.' He says, 'No, no.' Sometimes we make joke, we fight."

In one song, Koite, Bacoum and Mtukudzi deliberately create a composition that echoes all three cultures.

"We make it one song, we make it click together," Koite said. "It's like at same time it's Zimbabwean music and Malian mandinka music. It's good."

Although some pieces are tranquil songs, many of them give the musicians — particularly Mtukudzi — a chance to show off their dance moves and to get the audience moving

"During the gig, people must dance," Koite said.

For music samples, visit www.imnworld.com/artists/detail/ 152/acoustic-africa.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.