Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet shatter boundaries of culture, genre, faith and ethnicity – NPR

Ladilikan -Kronos Sessions

Kronos Quartet, Trio Da Kali

The highlight of the full-day of the Kronos Quartet is Kronos’ concert with the Malian Trio Da Kali. The trio of musicians of the West African griot tradition play songs with the Kronos Quartet, selected from their acclaimed 2017 joint album Ladilikan. The album is inspired by Malian music, but also by the gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. String quartet mixes with West African instruments. The members of Trio Da Kali are Fodé Lassana Diabaté on the balafon, Mamadou Kouyaté on the bass-ngoni, and Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté, a singer with the voice of a  diva: warm, powerful and overwhelming.

background information

It was clear from the first meeting of David Harrington, first violinist of the Kronos Quartet, and Malian singer Hawa Diabaté that the two were a match made in heaven. And yet the griot tradition  

represented by Diabaté was unknown territory to Harrington, despite the Kronos Quartet’s decades-long history of adventurous and internationally diverse cross-cultural collaborations. 

The meeting was arranged by the Aga Khan Music Initiative (AKMI), a program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture; the Kronos Quartet had been looking for Malian musicians to collaborate with, and were introduced to the three members of Trio Da Kali by mutual acquaintance musicologist Dr. Lucy Durán. Fodé Lassana Diabaté, balafon (xylophone) player and the trio’s musical director, vocalist Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté and bass n'goni (lute) player Mamadou Kouyaté formed the trio especially for this project.  All three are griots, repositories of an ancient oral tradition that occupies an important place in West African culture. The line-up of balafon, bass n'goni and female singer is also based on ancient tradition, but one that has continued to thrive by remaining open to renewal and external musical influences. 

Harrington: “The interaction felt really natural. We felt appreciated, and we hope they did too for the immense tradition they embody with every note they play. It’s one of our most beautiful collaborations.” 

None of the trio’s members had ever heard a string quartet, and were concerned about how well their instruments would blend with the violin, viola and cello, if they did at all. Lassana Diabaté: “Working with Kronos has changed the way I perceive my instrument. I’ve found a way to make music on the balafon in a classical music context where people sit and listen. With this project, I can show that the balafon can do it all – it can make you dance [and] it can make you listen.” 

In 2016, Fodé Lassana Diabaté composed a suite of four movements for the Kronos Quartet’s Fifty for the Future project. The suite, Sunjata's Time, which is not included on Ladilikan, the album the Kronos Quartet and Trio Da Kali made together, will be performed twice during the Kronos Sessions: the Kronos Quartet will play parts of the suite during their concert, and Ebonit, the saxophone quartet, will perform the entire suite during their show on the same day. 

The fruitful collaboration between the Kronos Quartet and Trio Da Kali has resulted in a collection of politically engaged songs inspired partly by the music of gospel singer and civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson, and includes a rendition of God Shall Wipe All Tears Away. The title track, Ladilikan, which translates as “words of advice”, also draws on a Jackson song, and the album was chosen by several publications as one of the best releases of 2017.



Since its foundation in 1973, San Francisco's Kronos Quartet has become one of the most celebrated string quartets of our time. Their pioneering reimagining of the string quartet experience,

relentless performance schedule and shared disregard for musical borders has earned them a permanent place in the spotlight. The quartet — currently made up of David Harrington (violin), John Sherba (violin), Hank Dutt (viola) and Sunny Yang (cello) — has released more than sixty albums, won numerous awards and commissioned more than 900 works for string quartet from some of classical music’s most important composers, including Terry Riley, Missy Mazzoli, Arvo Pärt, Franghiz Ali-Zadeh, Steve Reich, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Philip Glass. Their collaborative partners and musical selections from the worlds of jazz, pop, rock and other genres have been just as progressive, and include names such as Thelonious Monk, Jimi Hendrix, Björk and Sigur Rós. They have also recorded the soundtracks to several films, among which was Clint Mansell’s score for Requiem for a Dream. The Kronos Quartet are renowned for their interest in and engagement with music of non-Western origin. Many of the composers involved in the quartet’s ambitious education and legacy project, Fifty for the Future, are from a variety of non-Western countries and cultures, and include artists like Wu Man, the Chinese pipa player and Tanya Tagaq, the Inuit throat singer. The quartet are a cherished favourite of visitors to the Holland Festival. They accompanied the Nederlands Dans Theater for a performance at the festival in 2014, and returned two years later to perform at the Holland Festival Proms, during which they played some of the commissioned works for Fifty for the Future

The three members of Trio Da Kali are exponents of southern Mali’s Mandé culture. Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté is the trio’s vocalist, Lassana Diabaté plays the balafon, a West African xylophone, and Bassekou Kouyaté plays the bass n'goni, a West African lute. The trio aims to lend a contemporary twist to ancient and neglected repertoires. Trio Da Kali was formed in 2014, originally to develop a collaborative project with the Kronos Quartet. David Harrington, first violinist of the Kronos Quartet, described their work together as one of the most beautiful collaborations of the quartet’s 40-year career. The trio and quartet had their debut live performance at the Clarice Smith Center for Performing Arts in Maryland, and came together again in 2015 to perform at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The studio recording of their collaboration, Ladilikan, was chosen by several publications as one of the best releases of 2017. Since their formation, Trio Da Kali have performed at several major venues and festivals across the world, including the Royal Albert Hall, Théâtre de la Ville and the London Jazz Festival. Besides their success as a trio, the three musicians also maintain independent careers, and each has several recordings to their name. Following the successful collaboration with the Kronos Quartet, Lassana was invited to contribute a new composition to the quartet’s Fifty for the Future project, a library of works consisting primarily of compositions from non-Western countries and cultures.




Kronos Quartet, Trio Da Kali
Fodé Lassana Diabaté, Lucy Durán, Jacob Garchik
performed by
Kronos Quartet:
David Harrington, violin
John Sherba, violin
Hank Dutt, viola
Sunny Yang, cello
Trio Da Kali:
Fodé Lassana Diabaté, balafon
Mamadou Kouyaté,
Hawa Kasse Mady Diabaté, vocals