ARTIST: Ami Koita
GENRE: World, Africa, Mali, Malinke, Mande, Griot, Praise Songs, Jali
ABOUT: Very big star in West Africa and internationally known, Ami Koita is the most famous female Mandinka singer of Mali. Gifted with a volatile voice, and born into the musical tradition of praise singing, Ami is known as the diva of the mandingue music. Initially focusing on traditional Jali music, she has increasingly adopted modern influences.
Ami Koita was born in 1952 in Djoliba (the same village as Salif Keita) on the eve of the African Independence. This small town of historical importance is located 40 Km upstream of Bamako, in the heart of deep Mande, along the Niger river and just a few hours walking distance from Guinea. She was born into a Jali family in which music was an accepted form of expression. Her ancestral connections reach back to two griot families, Koita (her father’s side) and Kamissoko (by her mother).
Ami Koita is proud of her pure Mandinka origins. Her mother comes from Kirina, town of the famous battle of Sundiata Keita in the thirteenth century. When Ami was 5 years old she lost her father — Bengaly Fode Koita, pure hard school traditionalist, well known in Mali for his contribution to the history of conquests made by both Kings and Emperors of the Mande, the several anti-colonial battles fought by war chiefs such as Samory Toure, Emperor of Wassoulou, and Babemba, King of Sikasso…
Her father, in fidelity to the memory of the old Chief of Djoliba, vowed to no longer sing after the death of the latter. Ami did then her apprenticeship alongside her mother, for the singing and vocal fluctuations important to the griots; her grandmother, for the behavior, sensitivity, and respect for the tradition; and finally her uncle, Wa Kamissoko, for the knowledge of the true story, without distortion, in perfect harmony with the music.
On the death of her father she moved to Bamako with her mother but she always kept close ties with Djoliba. Her grandmother, centenary old woman, who disappeared in 1992, remains for Ami a constant source of inspiration and a model of Mandinka purity in opposition to the bastardized language and culture of the big cities.
Her uncle, Wa Kamissoko, was an internationally renowned historian who wrote two books on the history of the Mandinka. His words were even collected by Youssouf Tata Cisse and published under the title “The big castes of Mali”. This book is a reference to eminent professors of history in Europe and Africa. Wa Kamissoko will be the one that for 20 years will be responsible to refine the education of Ami Koita.
Ami followed her mother in all her services and started singing at the age of six. She was trained at weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, as her family expected her to be a great singer. She learnt, along with vocal technique, how to conduct herself as an honourable woman in the griot world, with its rivalries and jealousies.
At 12, Ami Koita was already a mini-coveted star in children’s parties in Bamako. Ami is revealed in 1966 on the occasion of a singing competition organised in Mali to recruit the best voices and knowledge of history for the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali. This is the beginning of a dazzling career.
In 1969, 17 years old Koita joined the famous and glorious National Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, with whom she toured extensively and discovered the biggest stages in the world. It was at this time that she also did her first studio recording at Radio Mali. Her first album was released in 1976 without her consent and since then she has released more than 17 albums.
In 1977, at the Festival des Arts Nègres in Lagos (Nigeria), she gave an outstanding performance, side by side with the great voices of Africa, including that of Kouyate Sory Kandia of Guinea, who pushes her to leave the National Instrumental Ensemble of Mali for a solo career.
Her first cassette is released in 1978. Until then griots were happy to appear only for private sponsors. She was therefore one of the first artists who have reversed this trend.
Ami Koita achieved international acclaim with her first albums and numerous compositions. Her music has majesty, power and passion. Her work includes songs of praise to people dead and alive, songs of love that are haunting, profound and bewitching and songs of sadness from a woman who is hoping in vain for a baby. Such songs explain her extraordinary popularity.
Apart from her voice, strident yet melodious, and the extraordinary transmission of history – her father was a renowned orator – Ami is also recognised for her compositions. She draws inspiration from the tradition which she enriches through touches of modernity. This is reflected in her choice of accompanying instruments, the African ngoni and kora, plus guitar, bass and drums.
“When I experimented with the modern orchestration I was afraid of losing my older fans” explained Ami. “But on the contrary, they have been the first to encourage me”. She feels the combination is a way of renewing the strength and culture of her homeland. In fact, this very limited modernisation did not alter the broad and calm Mandingo swaying on which Ami’s voice explodes, cascade and falls into the most pure tradition of clarity and freedom. Through her songs she denounces wickedness and jealousy, condemns injustice and violence, calls for unity and solidarity and asks for love, kindness, good manners and morality. Ami’s music thus leaves no-one untouched or unmoved.
Ami appeared throughout the African continent, Europe and North America. Her much noticed performance at UNESCO for the Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize, in the presence of Presidents Mitterrand (France), Mario Soares (Portugal), Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, of Federico Mayor, Secretary General of UNESCO, Jacques Chirac, Mayor of Paris, and a jury composed of about thirty eminent personalities from the political, scientific, economic, cultural and international press confirmed the amazing charisma of this singer.
In the early 90s she had outstandingly successful tours of France, Belgium, Netherlands and the UK which dramatically raised her public profile in Europe. She featured on Andy Kershaw’s BBC Radio 4 show “That’s What I Call Mali” and also recorded a number of sessions for BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 3, BBC World Service and BSB TV.
Ami Koita brings a woman’s perspective to the music of Mali. Known for her powerful soaring vocals, attitude and dynamic stage presence, Ami Koita has become a role model for the women of West Africa, including Mah Damba, Kandia Kouyaté, Oumou Sangaré, Tata Bambo Kouyaté, etc. As she sings: “I am proud to be a griot, I become a bird and fly above the people.”
PS: Her name is sometimes also written as Ami Koïta, Amy Koita or Amy Koïta, as a result of the colonial heritage, which changes the spelling from French to English, etc. Generally, however, “Ami” is short for “Aminata”, which may explain the spelling “Ami”. Similarly, the two dots on top of the “i” is French in spelling, as traditionally, “oi” yields the sound [‘fwa] as in “fois” (times).
SELECTED PRESS REVIEWS AND QUOTES:
“L’Imperatrice des griottes, often imitated but never matched.” (Bineta Diallo, Senegal)
“Words are not enough to qualify Ami, she is and will remain the best lady that African music has ever had. Long life neka Djely Muso.” (Bineta Diallo, Ivory Coast)
“Ami Koita, a stunning singing star from Mali. Ami’s music leaves no-one untouched or unmoved. Her music has majesty, power and passion.” (Northern Star)
“When one speaks of legendary female Mandinka singers who hail from Mali, only one name comes to mind, that of Ami Koita.” (Michael Edwards, ukvibe)
“Koita’s soaring voice, attitude, and presence has made her a role model for all of Mali’s contemporary women. As she sings: I am proud to be a griot, I become a bird and fly above the people.” (The Online African Musical Encyclopedia)
“Merci de nous rendre heureux à travers votre musique. Vous restez pour moi l’artiste préférée, mon idole. Je me demande quelle est la source de votre inspiration lorsque j’écoute toutes vos musiques. Il n’ya aucun artiste dans le monde dont toutes les musiques me plaisent comme Ami Koita. Tous mes encouragements et félicitations et plein succès dans toutes vos entreprises. Dieu vous donne longue et heureuse vie.” (Kansié Emmanuel, Burkina Faso)
“Distinguished Malian griotte” (Jon Lusk, Songlines)
– “Dakan” (Camara Production, 2013)
– “Classic Titles” (Cantos, 2006; MRA, 2007)
– “Sanou Lolo” (2004)
– “Best of – Vol. 1” (Sazima/Sonima, 2004)
– “Africawé” (Mali-Music, 2003)
– “Sarama” (Mali K7 SA, 2000)
– “Djiguy” (EMI/Créon Music, 1997; Déclics, 1998)
– “Divas Of Mali: Great Performances From A Fabled Land” (Shanachie, 1996)
– “Carthage” (Sonodisc, 1995)
– “Songs Of Praise” (Stern’s, 1994)
– “Hommage À Sambayal Gaye ‘Concorde'” (Not On Label, 1992)
– “Djamba kono” (1992)
– “Ami Koita” (Syllart, 1992)
– “La sublime Amy Koita” (1991)
– “Mamaya” (Mélodie, 1989; Syllart, 1993)
– “Mali Stars” (Mélodie)
– “Mory djo” (Oubien, 1989)
– “Nakan” (Mélodie, 1988)
– “Djoliba Kono” (Oubien, 1987)
– “Tata Sira” (Bolibana Records, 1986)
– “Debe/Amy Nana” (Esperance, 1985)
– “Tara” (Cassette, 1984)
– “Néné Daou” (1978; Mali K7, 1996)
– “Bomboli Niaré” (1976; Mali K7, 1996)
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