The (Unofficial) 2011 Richmond Folk Festival Guide 

From Chicago blues to Tibetan chants, we're going exotic places yet again.

Page 4 of 10

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Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba
Malian Rock 'n' Roll

Landlocked but river-threaded, stretching from the northern desert and legendary city of Timbuktu to southern jungle, Mali is a historic nexus of world culture.

Malian music combines a depth of tradition with a headlong, vital immediacy. Bassekou Kouyaté has played on some of his country's most winning recordings, including those of kora legend Toumani Dìabaté and the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré. He's featured on excellent crossover albums from Taj Mahal, Regina Carter, Roswell Rudd and most recently, Bela Fleck's Grammy-winning "Throw Down Your Heart." 

Reached by email, he says his band, Ngoni Ba, "has worked its way to a very lively style that some have said is actually rock 'n' roll." Centered on the percussive melodic lines of his instrument — the lutelike ngoni — its music has a layered drive and beauty with a strong familial resemblance to the blues.

"What I learned from Bela's music," Kouyaté writes, "is that if you listen carefully, you can express the same ideas using your own tradition and your own instruments." Those ideas are powerfully delivered through the singing of his wife, Ami Sacko, dubbed by UK music magazine Mojo as "the Tina Turner of Mali." ("I can't do without her," Kouyaté writes.)

What makes one of their performances successful? "When the audience spontaneously gets up," he responds, "and dances with us." — Peter McElhinney

Bassekou Kouyaté and Ngoni Ba

Saturday

8:15 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

Sunday

2:15 p.m.
Altria Stage

5 p.m.
Dominion Dance Pavilion

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Chatham County Line
Walkin' the Line

The boys of Chatham County Line play timeless music. It easily could have been strummed on a back porch 100 years ago somewhere in the Appalachian hills.

Banjoist Chandler Holt says he believes the secret to creating ageless songs is keeping them simple. "Having lyrics that paint a picture or image while simultaneously being poetic and not overdoing it is a big thing for us," Holt says. "Not forcing things and just letting the singer sing the song is often my best advice in this genre. Having a really good rhythm section doesn't hurt either."

The band grew out of a cohesive Raleigh, N.C., scene that raised young musicians on communal housing, sunrise jam sessions and beer. Ten years later, the guys are dapper showmen — although they acknowledge their suits are usually dirty — with "Wildwood." Their fifth album bubbles over with quick-picked stringed things and skittering percussion. The sound still is predominantly bluegrass, but there's just enough modern country to keep us guessing where they'll go on future albums.

Lyrically, the guys continue to stick to Everyman trials and tribulations, which Holt thinks are at the core of folk music. "Folk music has lots of definitions to different people, but I think people are attracted to its honesty," Holt says. "This music tells the stories of what life is really like now and in times past." — Hilary Langford

Chatham County Line

Saturday

1 p.m.
Altria Stage

4:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage

Sunday

4:30 p.m.
Community Foundation Stage.

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