“Sourakata Koité was born in 1955 in Malème, Senegal, a Malinke-speaking area. As Sourakata says, “All the Koité are musicians!” He is indeed a member of a family of djéli (or griot in french), the hereditary caste of musician-storyteller-historians in West Africa.
His musical life began early: at age three he began to play kora (a 21-string harp) with his uncle and brother; at 11 he performed with four members of his family as Les Griots (two koras, one bala, one djembé and one singer) in a piano-bar named Thiosan. When asked about his first musical memories, he replies, “We can’t remember the taste of the baby bottle.”
In 1977, a six-month engagement at a restaurant in Fréchencourt, France brought him to Europe, leaving Dakar where he had lived since 1975, having experienced the auspicious launch of mbalax music. He moved to Paris in 1978 to visit his brother—who was touring with the National Ballet of Senegal—and stayed in the capital on his brother’s advice.
In Paris he began to play in different bands, including Les Lézards, Les Ballets Kodia, La Kola, Le Griot de Paris, among others, and for different musicians like Manu Dibango, Jacques Higelin, Touré Kounda, Manfeï Obin, Mangala, Luther Allison, Mah Damba and more. He also performed alone and in a duo with a bala (traditional xylophone) player.
Sourakata, newly situated in Paris, soaked up the new sounds he heard there and expanded his musical repertory. He began to compose his own songs and build koras, allowing him to play and experiment with different tunings. Sourakata is a true innovator in that regard: he conceived of two 37-string koras (including a double handle one), and another with 22 strings (some of which are metallic guitar strings, and that enhance that characteristic buzzy sound). Sourakata links this idea to his utilization of overdubs on some tracks during the recording of en Hollande in 1984. Additional strings expands the possibilities, he says, and also the sound of his instrument. “Kora usually has very little bass: it seems that there’s a kora, but also a piano in there; they are two, four… or even five!”
Very curious and eclectic in his tastes, Sourakata listens and plays a wide range of styles—jazz, rock, reggae, funk, blues, classical. Relaxing in his apartment close to la porte des lilas in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, he listens to Bob Marley, James Brown and the online Malian music station Radio Wassoulo, excited by his recent return to international performances. “People should participate during the show!,” he says ; “They won’t be able to hide, and it will give me courage!””-Awesome Tapes From Africa