Habib Koite and Vusi Mahlasela will perform a concert in Northampton on April 10 at 7:30 p.m. The concert will be at the Academy of Music. Koite (pronounced KWA-tee) lives in the west African nation of Mali. Mahlasela lives in South Africa. They will perform at prestigious concert halls in New York City and Los Angeles in the coming weeks.
The Valley Post spoke with Koite twice, most recently in 2014. He spoke about his childhood in rural Mali, his music, and his thoughts on what Americans can do to help reduce poverty in Africa. The average life expectancy in Mali is 48 (it's 77 in the US). Ninety-one percent of people in Mali live on less than $2 a day. Koite invited Oxfam, a group that fights global poverty, to accompany him and sign up new members on at least one of his tours.
Koite said he is not an expert on poverty reduction, but his comments on the subject suggested otherwise. "Most of the money the UN spends in Mali goes to UN workers," he said. "They live in big houses and drive beautiful four-wheel drives. People who give money to Africa must think of new ways to help." One such way, he suggested, is for Americans and Europeans to lobby their elected officials to reduce domestic farm subsidies. "Farmers in Mali grow some of the best cotton in the world," Koite said. "But they can't sell it because cotton farmers in America and Europe get so much money from their governments."
Koite was raised mostly by his grandparents in a small Malian village. They were farmers. His mother and father lived in the city. His father was a train repairman, his mother a musician who was paid to perform at weddings and other celebrations. Koite has 17 siblings; his father had four wives. Koite has one wife and three children. Anyone who has read the famous novel "God's Bits of Wood" by Sembene Ousmane can probably get a pretty good idea of what Koite's early life was like in west Africa.
Koite has traveled and performed all over the world. But he said he hasn't ever wanted to live anywhere besides Mali. "For me, Mali is the best life," he said. "I have a very good life there. Many young Africans now want to go to Europe or the United States because of what they see on TV. But the reality is not like their dream. I want to give some hope to them that they can be someone in their own country. If I stay in Mali, maybe others will want to do the same." He said when he was a child in Mali it was easier to get to know music from the USA than the music of his native country. Malian radio and TV stations rarely play traditional local music, he said.
Koite recorded one of his albums in Vermont. A video of a brief interview with Koite, and of him playing a song with his band, is at:
Mahlasela was active in the movement that overthrew the apartheid government in South Africa. In 1994, he performed at Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration. "Vusi has a sort of profound beauty about him. He has a light on," said two-time Grammy award winner Dave Matthews. Mahlasela's 2011 album “Say Africa” was produced by Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, also known as Taj Mahal. Majal grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts and went to UMass Amherst. A video of Mahlasela performing live is at:
Some of his songs are in English. Tickets for the Northampton concert are $25 or $35. They're available at www.AOMtheatre.com. The Academy of Music is owned by the city of Northampton.