Bassekou was born in a village called Garana, almost 40 miles from Segu, in the remote countryside on the banks of the Niger River. He was raised in a traditional musical environment, his mother a praise singer and his father and brothers exceptional ngoni players.Bassekou moved to Bamako when he was 19 years old where he met the young Toumani Diabate. By the late 1980s Bassekou was part of Toumani’s trio and they recorded their first albums together, ‘Songhai’ and ‘Djelika’. Bassekou married the singer Ami Sacko (the so-called “Tina Turner of Mali”) and they have been in high demand for the traditional Sunday wedding parties that happen in the streets of Bamako. Bassekou has now he has put together his own band, Ngoni ba (meaning “the big ngoni”), Mali’s first ngoni quartet.
The ngoni is one of Africa’s secrets still to be discovered. It is the key instrument for the griot culture. Unlike the kora whose history goes back only a few hundred years, the ngoni has been the main instrument in griot storytelling way back into the days of Soundiata Keita (the grave of Sundiata’s grandmother who died in the 13th century is near Garana). The repertoire Bassekou plays is from the region of Segu, the heart of Bambara culture. Unlike mandenka griot music, Bambara music is pentatonic in nature, a music as close to the blues as you can get in Africa.