Music: Tariku—inheritors of Mandingo Ambassadors local mantle—play West African music Fri., Nov. 22

Tariku—which includes members of The Mandingo Ambassadors, including guitarist Mamady Kouyate and vocalist Aaron Greenberg—play Best Video Performance Space Friday, Nov. 22. The show starts at 8 PM and the cover is $15.

The music of Tariku is driven by the graceful and ebullient interlocking polyrhythms for which West African music has become famous. This is the region musicologists credit with the roots of jazz, blues, funk, and hip hop, and that sonic DNA is clearly audible in the playing of percussionists Mangue Sylla and Matt Dean, and bassist Frank Brocklehurst. Coloring inside these percussive lines are the smooth, elegantly filigreed guitar lines of lead guitarist, Mamady “Jelike” Kouyate Also leader of The Mandingo Ambassadors), and the swirling yet unerringly precise cascades of young flute phenom Dylan McDonnell. Rounding out the melodic mix, Arouna Kouyate doubles on the kora- a 21 string calabash harp with a tone like the beautiful lovechild of a lute and an oud- and the vocals, whose flavor to Western ears might fall somewhere between Flamenco and the blues.

Our influences range from the almost operatic style of classical Mandè virtuosos like Kouyate Sory Kandia and Toumani Diabate, to the golden age West African jazz bands like Balla et Ses Balladins and Bembeya Jazz National. The result is a surprisingly versatile and accessible sound which can be both mild and sweet enough to serve as a unique alternative to a jazz combo or string quartet, or bold and lively enough to drive people onto the dance floor.

In Maninka, the language of the former Mandén Empire (c.1230-c.1630) “Tariku” means “chronicle”. It refers to the treasure trove of musical literature kept these 800 years by a hereditary caste of bards called the jelilu (singular, jeli).

At the same time that epics like The Song of Roland and The Poem of the Cid were being sung in the castles of medieval Europe, the Mandén tariku or “chronicles of Mandén” were being performed in the courts of medieval West Africa. These epics are rich with high adventure, great battles, palace intrigues, cunning sorceresses, stalwart warriors, and august kings. Basically, imagine Game of Thrones, but with the cast of Black Panther, and you’re halfway there.

Our musical and historical director, El Hajj Mamady “Jelike” Kouyate, holds the eminent position of Jeli Kuntigi (literally “Headmaster”) of the Society of Mandén Jelilu of the Americas. As the foremost authority in this hemisphere on his people’s musico-historical tradition, he has charged us with the task (no pressure) of elevating and popularizing this tragically underappreciated art form here in the west. In the spirit of this, we strive to present these timeless pieces in a way that will be at once accessible and entertaining for American listeners, and also painstakingly faithful to the tradition. The result is a performance that falls somewhere between classical and jazz, between storytelling and song, between ancient and modern.

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