Cheick Hamala Diabaté (pronounced
shake haMAHla jaBAHtaby) was born in Kita, Mali, and is recognized
as one of the top ngoni (a stringed lute that is the ancestor
of the American banjo) players living today. The Diabates are
a Jali (Griot) family that trace their heritage back over eight
hundred years. The Jeli are the historians of West Africa. Along
with the playing of music, a Jali is called upon to recount the
history of the people via the spoken and sung word. A Griot is
anointed by genetics and is trained from birth by his family elders
in all aspects of the Griot tradition.
Cheick Hamala quickly became a master of several traditional Jali instruments (he also plays the western guitar), but has focused his skill on the ngoni. From the age of twelve, Cheick Hamala studied at the National Institute of Arts in Bamako,
Mali’s capitol. After completing his studies, he began an international performing career, traveling throughout Africa, Europe, Asia and Canada. Among the well-known Malian stars with whom Diabate has appeared include Ami Koita, Kandia Kouyate and Salif Keita. He also recorded for German record labels.
In 1995, Cheick Hamala Diabaté
migrated to the United States, where he continued to perform within
the Malian community for public and private celebrations. Cheick
Hamala has also endeavored to bring his wonderful music to American
audiences, appearing at the National Museum of African Art, the
Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival, at the John F. Kennedy
Center for the Performing Arts and at colleges, universities and
concerts throughout the country.
Cheick Hamala Diabaté is available as a solo artist, with a traditional Malian Manding music ensemble featuring kora (African harp), balaphone and percussion, with a modern electric group, as well as in conjunction with American banjoists Bob Carlin and Joe Ayers.