Wandering the streets of Manhattan, I've heard sidewalk musicians play just about every instrument under the sun, from harmonicas to hurdy-gurdies, saxophones to steel drums.
But I never heard someone playing the kora until Saturday, in Washington Square Park.
Adama Dembele is a griot from Burkina Faso, West Africa. He is descended from a long line of griots and has brought centuries' worth of this tradition of musical oral history to America.
click here for a sample, but read my note first*). The phrasing, the rhythms seem to embrace Western sensibilities like an old flannel shirt.
And with good reason: West Africa is the mother of most of the music we hold dear. Rhythm and blues, gospel, rock, blues, rap -- they all have their roots in West Africa and they all started shaping our music the minute the first slave ship landed on these shores.
My personal favorites are the richly textured music of Senegal and Gambia, the sounds of which echo in music as diverse as Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Mahalia Jackson, Elvis Presley and Chuck D.
And today, I discovered Burkina Faso's wonderful contribution to the mix.
*This is a 5.2MB .wma sound file, so it will take about a minute to download, depending upon the speed of your Internet connection. The song is 5 minutes, 37 seconds long. If you would like to learn more about Adama or buy one of his CDs, e-mail me at henro1962(at)yahoo(dot)com and I'll send you his e-mail address, and you can work out the details between yourselves.