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The Mali to Memphis tour, inspired by the best-selling Putamayo recording of the same name, invokes the musical legacies connecting the heart of an ancient West African kingdom with the crucible of American blues, from the Niger River to the levees of the Mississippi.

Tour headliner Habib Koité blends age-old traditions of griot-inspired song with more contemporary pan-African influences, ever true to the traditional instruments of his home. The guitarist’s Bamada band from Mali is joined on the tour by American blues great Guy Davis, with a stop scheduled for 8 p.m. today at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets are $22 for the public, $4 for faculty and staff, and free with Lafayette student ID. They can be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

The tour includes a public appeal for awareness of hunger and health issues in African lands and for partnerships with Oxfam International, a confederation of 12 organizations working together with over 3,000 partners in more than 100 countries to find lasting solutions to poverty, suffering, and injustice.

Koité is known for his unique approach to playing the guitar. He tunes his instrument to the pentatonic scale and plays on open strings. At other times he plays music that sounds closer to the blues or flamenco. Unlike the griots, Koité’s singing style is restrained and intimate with varying cadenced rhythms and melodies. His supporting cast, Bamada, is an explosive super-group of West African rhythm section talent.

He has won first prize at the Voxpole Festival in Perpignan, France; the Radio France International Discoveries prize; and a Kora Award, Africa’s Grammy, for Best West African artist. He has played at most of Europe’s major venues and festivals, including the Montreaux Jazz Festival, WOMAD, and the World Roots Festival. In spring 2000, he toured Europe and Turkey as an invited guest with legendary avant-garde jazz group The Art Ensemble of Chicago.

Koité’s artistry has earned him the adoration of fans such as Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, who invited him to record on her Silver Lining album. He has been featured in People Magazine, Rolling Stone, Rhythm magazine, and on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” NPR’s “All Things Considered,” WXPN’s “World Café,” Public Radio International’s “The World,” and the House of Blues Radio Hour “Mali to Memphis” special.

His breakthrough crossover success Ma Ya spent an unprecedented 20 weeks in the top 20 of the College Music Journal New World music chart, and broke new ground at AAA rock radio, spending several months in regular rotation on commercial stations across the country. The album has sold 50,000 units in North America and 100,000 worldwide, while his last album, Baro, sold 80,000 copies worldwide.

Davis is a recipient of the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award and the Brio Award from the Bronx Council of the Arts, among other honors. He arranged, performed, and co-wrote the music for the Emmy-award winning film To Be a Man and his music was used in the national PBS series The American Promise.

Acoustic Guitar magazine calls Davis’ CD Call Down the Thunder one of the 30 essential CDs from a new generation of performers and it was named a top ten album of the year by the Boston Globe and Pulse. His follow-up effort, You Don’t Know My Mind” was chosen as Blues Album of the Year by the Association For Independent Music and received a four-star review from The San Francisco Chronicle, which notes, “Davis’ tough, timeless vocals blow through your brain like a Mississippi dust devil.” His sixth CD, Chocolate to the Bone, earned a rare review of four and a half stars from Down Beat magazine.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2004-05 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, J. Mahlon and Grace Buck Foundation, and Croasdale Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

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