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Lamine Soumano

Picking history

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It's not impossible to track down West African musician Lamine Soumano, but it's hard: He's elusive electronically, at least according to Google. He has a record label and a MySpace profile. There, he has 39 views and three friends. And now—in America to promote his first album, Sacred Grove—he's never in the same place for too long.

Oh, but for the power of YouTube: Several three-minute videos of Soumano performing reveal a dynamic man, standing center stage playing Malian music with a passion for perfection. Dressed in a white robe, Soumano picks his way through traditional Mali music on the strings of a Kora (a 21-plus string harp-lute from West Africa, played locally by Mali emigrant Mamadou Diabate) and acoustic and electric guitars. His body moves to the beat, rocking side to side with each plucked note. He is enlivened by this music, all riding a distinctive rhythm that's heavy on syncopation.

Soumano, it seems, has good reason to be moved so by his music: He was born into it. Raised in the small village of Kirina, Mali, Soumano grew up listening to the music and stories of his ancestors. Affected by an ever-present, age-old legacy, he grew up to take the position of a griot, a West African poet, praise singer and wandering musician. Now Soumano travels the world sharing his traditional folk music with all cultures. He's played with Asheville's Toubab Krewe, one of the top American interpreters of African music, and one company claims to build their Kora to his specifications. Still, he treats his inherited sound gingerly, caring for each light polyrhythm or string crossing. It's as if you can hear the history that goes into each note he plays, or the progress this music made possible when he picks up an electric guitar and hints at blues and jazz. Maybe he's not so far away or hard to find after all.

Lamine Soumano and his International Ensemble play The Cave Saturday, Aug. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

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