Cheick Hamala Diabate is a griot — a storyteller, poet, community historian, counselor and player of the n’goni, a stringed instrument originating in West Africa. But he’s the only Malian griot in his adopted home of Prince George’s County, Maryland, where he settled down thousands of miles from his family, who hail from the Western Malian town of Kita.
WAMU’s Hans Anderson chatted with Diabate about the griot life for last week’s “Global D.C.” edition of Metro Connection. They met up at D.C. lounge Bossa, where Diabate regularly performs with a band.
Diabate talked to Anderson about the esteemed but solitary role of being the D.C. region’s only Malian griot:
I remember, a long time ago, they called me the griot of the Congress because every time when any president came from Africa they invite me to go sit down and play my n’goni — bring peace — for everybody. I’m the only griot here.
There’s a million, million people in our culture and we put together good music. I’m here. I miss my family. I miss other griot. It’s not easy, but that’s my life. So, God sent me here. It’s very difficult but God is big. When I go to many university they ask me, “Cheick, I want to be griot.” I tell people, “You’re born griot. You don’t want to be griot. You’re born griot.”
Listen to the rest of the story on metroconnection.org. Want more? Check out Diabate’s 2013 Tiny Desk performance below and catch him every Tuesday night at Bossa in Adams Morgan.