Cheick is known to rock 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.
“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.”
Despite his love of new sounds, Diabate knows that the griot remains the same, regardless of whether he’s singing under the WashingtonMonument, or in the shadow of a Bamako minaret (both of which are pictured on the Ake Doni Doni album cover). “When someone is lazy, they see the griot and change their ways.