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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Musician brings the sounds of Africa

On Thursday, Nov. 19, NMU students will have an opportunity to experience a part of African culture that has been around for over 800 years, when musician Baye Kouyate, a griot from Mali, comes to campus.

The griot is a caste of Malian society that has served to perpetuate traditional songs and stories through oral performances. Their role has expanded from simply performing in their African villages to recording CDs and giving shows strictly for entertainment.

Born in Bamako, Mali, Kouyate knew from an early age that he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a griot. It is an exclusive caste, one which a boy or girl (called griottes) can only be born into.

“You cannot just choose, you have to be born a griot,” Kouyate said. “If your dad is griot, then you become griot.”

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Kouyate still has his family’s original name from over 800 years ago and still fulfills his role in society. The original Griots were storytellers, praise singers and specialists in the oral tradition, and their knowledge is passed from generation to generation. Kouyate feels a strong connection between his job and that of his ancestors.

“We used to live in a life with no computer. And we used to live in a life with no light. Why we don’t live the same thing, is things change. [Griots] bring the real thing about life to give to people,” Kouyate said. He said he also hopes to get people to appreciate the natural beauty that surrounds them. “We don’t see it, we forgot, because there’s something inside of this life that takes us away from that. That’s why we always try to bring that power through to life.”

Kouyate is coming to NMU as part of the International Performing Arts Series. According to Dan Truckey, director of the Beaumier Heritage Center, Kouyate’s group was not originally slated to be a part of the 2009 series. Initially, Truckey had arranged for an Italian techno-rock group to come.

“We had specifically selected [a different group, but they had broken up] because we wanted something that would appeal to the younger audience,” Truckey said.

Baye Kouyate’s group was able to perform and provides the kind of hip music Truckey was looking for.

“He’s very dance oriented, it’s very old music but performed in a very contemporary way,”

It is this exact trend toward more popular styles that Kouyate strives to incorporate into his performances. His inspiration for modernizing his songs came from watching his uncle’s band perform.

“They developed [a style of music] taking [traditional] African and brought guitars and drums . mixed with different instruments. I see my uncle, he developed something huge. I just got my inspiration from him,” he said.

His attempts to contemporize his performances extend beyond his musical style into the actual songs he performs. While he does stay true to his Griot roots and performs many traditional African pieces, he has been working on a new album, titled “The Meeting,” incorporating arrangements about his own personal experiences.

“We talk about nature, we talk about this world, we talk about human rights,” Kouyate said. “So I think [“The Meeting”] is going to be more talking about my trip outside the country, how I feel, how I think, and what it means working with different artists in the U.S. and Africa.”

One of the biggest ideas Kouyate is working on is spreading the truth about the quality of life he has seen throughout his travels.

“If you watch TV in Africa, right now, sometimes they show that nothing is dangerous here, or everything is so beautiful,” Kouyate said. “So the people back home, they’re confused. I want to show people that it is a beautiful thing here, that there are a lot of good things here, [and] there are a lot of bad things too.”

The concert will have extra significance for many, as it will be dedicated to Louise Bourgault, a former NMU professor who passed away on Oct. 31. Bourgault had dedicated a large part of her life to research in western Africa.

“After she passed away, [it] just seemed the right thing to do to dedicate the concert to her. It’s a celebration of the music and culture that she loved so much and we really want to keep it that way,” Truckey said. “We want to celebrate her life, and we see the concert as being a way of kind of extending that celebration of her efforts in Africa, which were very important.”

Truckey’s decision seems to typify Kouyate’s overall philosophy.

“It’s just one world, we are together,” Kouyate said. “We are love and peace and sharing, that’s who we are. That’s the Griot job, wherever the Griot is, it’s to make peace and talk about things.”

Baye Kouyate will perform Thursday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in the Great Lakes Room in the University Center. Tickets for students are $5 in advance or $6 dollars at the door. Faculty, staff and seniors will be charged $13 in advance or $15 at the door and tickets for the general public will $18 in advance or $20 at the door.

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