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OPENS JUNE 25
The Smithsonian Folklife Festival may be a celebration of traditional culture, but that doesn’t mean the musicians from Mali, Scotland, and Appalachia who will be performing at this year’s event will be offering quaint, homogenized Mighty Wind songcraft. Take the diverse Malian program: The West African country will be represented in part by acoustic “hunters’ music,” circumcision songs, and griots reciting the history of Timbuktubut expect nearly all of the performances to include dancers, percussionists, and other instrumentalists who will keep the mood from becoming stodgy. The schedule of Malian bands offers a number of traditional groups with no international releases, as well as Afropop stars who mix homegrown and Westernized elements, such as Salif Keita, Oumou Sangaré (pictured), and Ali Farka Touré. Keita’s high-pitched, Islamic-rooted wail isn’t merely the best in his large, landlocked homelandit’s one of the world’s finest. Sangaré’s soulful voice is as spicy as Malian peanut sauce yet as sweet as the nation’s hibiscus tea. And Farka Touré, who’s been in semi-retirement, will be making a rare appearance; his Mother Africa-meets-John Lee Hooker guitar wizardry is something to behold. Among the lesser-known acts, Neba Solo is an up-and-comer who sings while he taps out warm rhythms on his xylophone-like balafon, and Ensemble Instrumental will drape female choral vocals over the harplike kora and the lutelike ngoni. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (with evening programs from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) from Wednesday, June 25, to Sunday, June 29, and from Wednesday, July 2, to Sunday, July 6 (see City List for a full schedule of events), on the National Mall between 7th and 14th Sts. Free. (202) 633-9884. (Steve Kiviat)