This show presents the music and performances of Gambian griots Mafu Conteh and Jali Bakary Konteh in partnership with the chamber orchestra forces of Contemporaneous. Mafu and Jali Bakary are the grandsons of legendary Mandinka griot and kora player Alhaji Bai Konte, the figure largely responsible for bringing the Gambian kora to international acclaim in the 1970s. Mandinka tradition of music and oral history has been passed down for hundreds of years and generations of griot families, and Mafu Conteh and Jali Bakary Konteh are the current bearers of that cultural legacy.
In 2019, Contemporaneous arranged and performed a song by Alhaji Bai Konte, the video of which was discovered by his grandsons. Sensing an innate connection between the ensemble and their grandfather’s music, they reached out to Contemporaneous, and from that first seed, a collaboration was born. This show will see the culminating fruition of this years-in-the-making musical cross-cultural dialogue, as Conteh, Konteh, and Contemporaneous have worked together to create brand new orchestrations of the music of Conteh, Konteh, and their grandfather within an expanded musical context of the 23-member ensemble of Contemporaneous.
This performance features Conteh and Konteh performing on kora and voice alongside the full ensemble, arrangements of their music written exclusively for the ensemble of Contemporaneous, and duo performances by Conteh and Konteh. Woven together, this years-long collaboration creates a uniquely invaluable space for the musical tradition of Mandinka culture within the modern musical context in New York City.
Jali Bakary Konteh kora, voice
Mafu Conteh kora, balafon, voice
Contemporaneous is an ensemble of 23 musicians whose mission is to bring to life the music of now. Recognized for a “ferocious, focused performance” (The New York Times) and for its “captivating and whole-hearted commitment” (I Care If You Listen), Contemporaneous performs and promotes the most exciting work of living composers through innovative concerts, commissions, recordings, and educational programs.
Based in New York City and active throughout the United States, Contemporaneous has been presented by such institutions as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, PROTOTYPE Festival, Merkin Concert Hall, MATA Festival, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Bang on a Can and has worked with such artists as David Byrne, Donnacha Dennehy, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Dawn Upshaw, and Julia Wolfe.
Contemporaneous has premiered more than 150 works, and with its newly-launched program Contemporaneous IMAGINATION, the ensemble champions large-scale works, curated from an open call for artists to submit ideas for projects that take risks and defy constraints. The ensemble has recently released the first season of its new podcast Imagination Radio, which explores the significance of creativity and music in our lives through dialogues with composers, scientists, a cartographer, and a BASE jumper. Contemporaneous has recorded for the New Amsterdam, Cantaloupe, Innova, Roven, and Navona labels.
Contemporaneous also leads participatory programs for public school students in the communities where the ensemble performs. These workshops are designed to instill a passion for new music and to convey the power of careful listening and meaningful expression through music. The ensemble has held residencies at such institutions as City University of New York, the University of New Orleans, Williams College, and Bard College, where the group was founded in 2010. Contemporaneous is a federally tax-exempt not-for-profit organization, supported by a dedicated community of listeners.