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12 novembre 2006

Out of Africa

Musicians descend on B.B King's Manhattan club

Thanks to artists like Peter Gabriel, who introduced Youssou N'Dour to non-African audiences, and Paul Simon, whose 1986 album "Graceland" brought Ladysmith Black Mambazo to prominence, the music of Africa is not unknown away from its home continent.

Those who want to explore African music more deeply have the opportunity Tuesday at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill as Putumayo, the multicultural retailer, presents "Acoustic Africa," a tour comprised of three of the musicians featured on the eponymous album -- Vusi Mahlasela, Habib Koité and Dobet Gnahoré.

Mahlasela first came to prominence when fellow South African Dave Matthews featured his singing on "Everyday." Mahlasela's music is melodic and showcases the unique guitar style he developed teaching himself on a homemade instrument. Mahlasela has finished a new record, "Guiding Star," with Matthews, Derek Trucks and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. "I think this album brought together all the right forces," Mahlasela says. "These were people who helped me, who were my guiding stars. I'm calling the album that."

Mahlasela says he is enjoying touring with Koité of Mali and Gnahoré of Ivory Coast -- both former French colonies -- even though they don't all speak the same language. "It's been great performing with and listening to the other artists. They've brought this musical energy and we're sharing it with audiences," Mahlasela says. "The music we play has different languages and different styles. But you hear the melodies, and you can hear that all of the influences of the music in Europe and in the States draw back to Africa."

Although Mali is landlocked -- the music of Africa has been influenced by traffic through its ports -- Koité says there was no shortage of inspiration for him and his band, Bamada. "We touch seven or eight countries," he says. "In Mali, we have some of the music of the many countries we touch." Koité had come to the attention of Americans thanks to his duet with Bonnie Raitt on her 2002 album, "Silver Lining." Raitt and Jackson Browne, another Koité fan, have visited him in Mali.

"Bonnie is like a sister to me. She has come to my home, which in Mali is a great thing," Koité says. "Jackson first came to my gigs in Los Angeles. It was a dream for us to see him. Everybody was saying, 'Jackson Browne. This is not possible.' " What has been possible on this tour is for the three performers to blend their music and cultures. "Vusi, Dobet and I can make one very good mix," Koité says. "If I give Dobet one of my songs I have written, I have to tell her what it means. We have to learn each other's Africa."

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