Habib Koité is the very definition of a griot—a storyteller and musician. He embodies  African poetry and spiritualism. Koité’s musical prowess titillated the senses of the HIFA 2017 audience in a refreshing closing performance.

Raising the curtain for Koité British dance artist Tim Casson and collaborators performed ‘THE DANCE WE MADE’, a new dance piece comprising of moves collected from Zimbabweans on the street during the Festival. 

Immediately after the dance performance, the audience cheered as Koité casually entered the stage. Presence–the man oozes it. Mali has produced some of the greatest musicians in the world and Koité is no exception, in fact, he is the archetype of West African flavour.

Habib Koité performs at Hifa in the Harare Gardens. Photo: Shorai Murwira/This is Africa

In an age where African culture is being eroded by an increasingly westernised world, Koité is holding down the cultural fort. Described by Rolling Stone as “Mali’s biggest pop star;” the guitarist Koité justified why he’s regarded as one of Africa’s most popular and acclaimed musicians. He owned the main stage with his soothing vocals, and infectious smile as he constantly referred to how happy he was to be in Harare.

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The crowd’s thirst for a powerful ending to the week-long festival was quenched. Koité’s technique of playing his guitar on a pentatonic scale, and fusing afro sounds with bluesy rhythms creates an ambiance of a calm utopia. It was mesmeric watching him and his band Bamada play on stage.

Habib Koité performs with his band Bamada at Hifa in the Harare Gardens. Photo: Shorai Murwira/This is Africa

After last night’s performance, it is fair to say that Koité and his band members are possessed. Between the talking drum, his guitar, bass and calabash, for a moment Harare was transported to Mali. The Bamada band plays from deep within. Authenticity like that cannot be practiced, it simply is. 

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The musicians were regally dressed in West African garb, and they played so beautifully and effortlessly as if they were in a private jam session. The HIFA crowd was pleased as the musical magician proclaimed “I am very happy, I hope you are happy too…it is a very big honour for me to play at HIFA. Thank you HIFA, thank you everybody.”

A member of Habib Koité’s Bamada band performs at Hifa in the Harare Gardens. Photo: Shorai Murwira/This is Africa

Throughout his performance he alluded to cities; Koité said that he loved the sound of the word Harare and gave an emphatic praise for Bulawayo, a city the artist is clearly in love with. In his appreciation of cities, he sang nostalgically about LA and tequila after an amusing scat that tickled the crowd and drew warm chants and applause—the song sounded like a fun jingle for Patron.

Karecye Fotso joined the Bamada band on stage. Fotso and Koité have a musical chemistry that is undeniable. As they both strummed their guitars, tastefully gyrated and sang “forced marriage is no good” the audience tapped and gently grooved along.

Habib Koité performs at Hifa in the Harare Gardens. Photo: Shorai Murwira/This is Africa

Koite then performed with a group of young Zimbabwean female artists. Thereafter in a “surprise” moment Zimbabwean audiences have somewhat, come to expect, Tuku joined Koité on stage. Two legends, one stage—a fusion of southern and western culture—what’s not to like?

The performance was sublime.