Idrissa Soumaoro

Idrissa Soumaoro, born near Bamako in 1949, is one of the relative unknowns in Malian music, taking part in a number of important developments, but letting others take the spotlight in general. His early years in music were spent as part of les Ambassadeurs alongside Salif Keita and Kante Manfila in their formative years. After his time as a performing musician, Soumaoro left the music business largely to develop other courses. Studying in Cambridge, Hereford, and Birmingham, Soumaoro earned degrees in English, Braille music, and special education, which he quickly put to use teaching music to blind students and forming a pair of renowned blind groups. This led upward through positions to the present, where he sits as the general supervisor for all music education in Mali. Still performing occasionally on the side in various hotels, Soumaoro developed a new style of music called Kote, which encompasses both theater and music, usually taking the form of cultural and political satire and humor. The music itself is strongly based in traditional forms and the African blues, with a sound very similar in many respects to that of Boubacar Traoré or Ali Farka Toure. Work in the hotels led to collaboration with African superproducer Ibrahima Sylla (veteran of albums with Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, and Ismaël Lo) on his first debut album named after his signature form, released worldwide in 2003. Combined with his work with the blind, his musical idioms and performances have also earned Soumaoro a spot as a Knight of the National Order of Mali for his contributions to culture in 2002, capping off a long career that doesn't show any serious signs of slowing. ~ Adam Greenberg

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