The Kennedy Center

BKO Quintet


BKO is a journey into the heart of contemporary Malian music, combining two of the West African nation’s most well-known traditions, and bringing together four of Mali’s finest veteran musicians in the process: Ibrahima Sarr (Oumou Sangare), Fassara Sacko, N’Faly Diakité, and Mamoutou Diabate with French percussionist Aymeric Krol.

The project began when Krol travelled to Bamako to study the djembefola drum under the tutelage of master drummer Ibrahima Sarr. Together, they assembled the core group of musicians that would become the BKO Quintet, combining the very distinct musical traditions of the Mandinka griots—jelis—with that of the Bambara hunters— donso— to create a completely new sound.

The core group consists of djembe player Ibrahima Sarr, singer Fassara Sacko, and drummer Aymeric Krol. Add to that N’Faly Diakité, a highly regarded donsongoni player and grandson of legendary donso master Yoro Sidibé. He joined the band to record the debut album Bamako Today, and has consistently toured and recorded with the band ever since. Mamoutou Diabate is a genius of the smaller djelingoni lute, and has developed a unique, almost psychedelic style, bringing to mind Jimi Hendrix. He comes from a family of griots, and has performed and toured with BKO since 2014.

BKO Quintet’s first album, Bamako Today, was a long time coming. It was initially recorded as a live EP in January 2012, as Mali was engulfed in the chaos of a coup d’etat and armed rebellion in the North of the country. Despite these crises, the quintet persevered, and was able to record more tracks in Paris in January of 2013, finally releasing the album internationally on the Buda Musique label in March 2015.

Afropop’s Banning Eyre wrote of that album: “BKO Quintet literally formed and made their first recordings amid crisis, and whatever the song lyrics might say, these performances exude a sense of urgency. The ensemble creates an engaging blend of rural and urban sensibilities. Prominent in the mix is the sound and feel of hunters’ music, with the heavy thrumming tones of the donsongoni(hunters’ harp) played by Nfali Diakite, who adds rap-like incantations that evoke ancient days when hunters were the storytellers and reporters of their village societies. At the same time, we have the sharp, nimble sound of the djelingoni (Abdoulaye Kone and Mbaba Sissoko) and portentous blasts of Mande griot oratory from Fassara Sacko.”

Since 2013, BKO Quintet has gone on to tour the world, playing festivals in Japan, Korea, southern Africa, and across Europe. The group returned in 2017 with a new album, Mali Foli Coula (Buda Musique, Nov 2017) which translates as “New Music of Mali”. Recorded at the Friche Artistique Lamartine studio in Lyon, France, and directed by the trio of David Kiledjian, Yoan Jauneaud and Aymeric Krol, this album is more visceral and instinctive than their first release and explores the intersection of traditional music with the urban scene in Bamako today, incorporating elements of rock, electric trance, and even some French chanson. Though anchored in centuries-old traditions, BKO's music will transport you to the heart of today's
urban Mali as well as to the ritual and mystical depths of animist hunters.

Watch Past Performances

Video 8/1/2019: BKO Quintet: A Journey into the Heart of Mali

BKO Quintet: A Journey into the Heart of Mali ventures into the heart of contemporary Malian music, combining two of the West African nation’s most well-known musical traditions, those of the hunter’s harp and the griot’s harp. Their fresh approach translates into an electrified and highly danceable set of music representing the urban scene in Bamako today.