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Washington may be chock-a-block with lobbyists and consultants, but only one of them rocks the n’goni, the West African plucked lute covered with animal skin. He advises presidents and the World Bank. He’s played for everyone from a struggling couple trying to save their marriage, to the U.S. Congress. He’s hobnobbed with American string and Blues legends—from Bela Fleck to Corey Harris—and along the way reunited his beloved instrument with its long-lost grandchild, America’s banjo.

And now he’s taken Malian music global thanks to a unique African music incubator on the outskirts of Washington, DC, where he has gathered together friends and family, including bluesman Corey Harris, members of DC’s Afrofunk big band, Chopteeth, and his daughter and nephew, to form a creative community brimming over on his newest release, Ake Doni Doni – “Take it Slow” (Grigri Discs; August 11, 2009). His name is Cheick Hamala Diabate, and he’s got something to tell you.

“The music we griots play is not just about making nice sounds for dancing, it’s about giving a lesson to people about their lives. You tell them about what their grandfathers did, and what they should do now,” explains Diabate, whose griot roots run deep as first cousin to kora master Toumani Diabate, and nephew to legendary Super Rail Band guitarist, Djelimady Tounkara. “People trust the griot more than anyone else.”

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