The ‘African Clapton’ brings voices of Mali to Varick St. | East Villager & Lower East Sider

The ‘African Clapton’ brings voices of Mali to Varick St.

Passionate polyglot vocalist Habib Koité brings his band to City Winery, on March 6.   PHOTO BY DIRK LEUNIS
Passionate polyglot vocalist Habib Koité brings his band to City Winery, on March 6. PHOTO BY DIRK LEUNIS

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  Guitar virtuoso Habib Koité’s new album tells a very personal story of his home in Mali — and now he’s brought his band halfway around the world to share it with American listeners.

The February 25 release, “Soô” — which literally translates to home — shows off Koité’s mastery not only on the fretboard, but as a passionately polyglot vocalist (singing in three different native tongues) and a solid bandleader. It’s a densely layered, eclectic mix of tunes that all thrive on joyful African rhythms (with the kind of authenticity that only a well-played djembe can offer), along with choral arrangements that pepper rich, call-and-response harmonies throughout.

But, unsurprisingly for an artist sometimes referred to as the “African Clapton,” Koité frequently steals the show with his inventive guitar work, navigating the melodic terrain just as nimbly as he does while singing of the villages and people of Mali. The surprise, in this case, is that on several tunes he’s brought a banjo into the mix, putting a refreshing spin on some traditional folk sounds.

It’s worth coming out to see Koité at City Winery on March 6 just to hear how nicely that sharp twang mingles with the voice of an African drum. But there’s also nothing wrong with just listening to his words about home — because even if you don’t speak Malinke, Bambara, or Dogon, it’s never too hard to connect when the honest feeling, the soul, is there.

MUSIC  |  HABIB KOITÉ
Thursday, March 6
At City Winery (155 Varick St., at Vandam St.)
Doors at 6pm, show at 8pm
Tickets Range From $28 to $35
For tickets: citywinery.com/newyork
For info on artist: habibkoite.com