October 20, 2023 @ 7:00PM — 10:00PM Eastern Time (US & Canada)

3 Dots Downtown: 137 E Beaver Ave State College, PA 16801 Get Directions


Gorinto x 3 Dots Present Secret Planet: International Sounds in Rural Spaces will establish a landmark series of diverse global music performances in rural Central PA, connecting a decentralized consortium of curators, musicians, and producers presenting international performances across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.


Burkina Faso has always marched to its own drummer. The small West African nation has sometimes been overshadowed by its more populous northern neighbor Mali, and was once the southeastern frontier of the sprawling medieval Malian Empire. This empire spanned 10 modern nations and dozens of ethnic groups, and was knit together by the Mandé or Mandinka language and cultural complex—a language of kings, scholars, and epic poetry still spoken today. But “The Land of Upright Men” is a cultural powerhouse in its own right, and few artists embody the creative, independent spirit of Burkina Faso as Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band, a four-piece ensemble that reimagines ancient Mandé musical traditions for the 21st century.

The group is led by the charismatic, enigmatic singer Baba Commandant (aka, Mamadou Sanou), an activist for traditional Mandinka music who began his career as a dancer with the Koule Dafourou troupe, before making his mark as a singer—or shouter—with various local bands. Baba originally hails from Burkina Faso’s second city, Bobo-Dioulasso—a bustling railway town with deep Mandinka roots. There he grew up immersed in Mandé traditions, and attended initiation rites for the Donso hunter society, from whom Baba learned his signature instrument, the donso n’goni.

A traditional, six-stringed harp with a gourd resonator, the donso n’goni conjures up earthy tones that create hypnotic, trance-like patterns. The instrument’s name translates as “hunter’s harp” and originated among the Senufo hunters of Burkina Faso, one of the regional Donso hunter societies of Mandinka culture. These semi-secret fraternities are spread across the historic Wassoulou region of Mali, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire, and Burkina Faso, and its members are highly respected as traditional healers, mystics, seers, and storytellers. The Donso accompany their storytelling and songs with the n’goni, preserving genealogies, proverbs, esoterica, and generational knowledge.

Today Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band make their home in the capital, Ouagadougou, and are a fixture on the city’s burgeoning music scene. Their debut album, Juguya, caused a stir in 2015—winning critical acclaim for its unique fusion of traditional Burkinabé instruments; propulsive, Afrobeat-inspired horns; and raw guitar power that created an unstoppable groove. Their sound is anchored by Baba’s donso n’goni and gravelly vocals, as well as by the electric guitar heroics of Issouf Diabate, and a battery of traditional and modern percussion, including the balafon (the West African predecessor of the xylophone), which adds a piquant, rhythmic punch to so much Mandinka traditional and pop music.

Baba Commandant draws on his intimate knowledge of Donso traditions whenever he takes up his n’goni; alternately growling, whispering, and chanting his way through the group’s repertoire. Their sound has evolved over time, jettisoning the horns in favor of a tighter focus on the interplay between Diabate’s sparkling guitar and the n’goni’s gutbucket funk. The result is a leaner, meaner, four-piece touring outfit who are bringing their road-tested sound to North America for the first time in 2023.

This performance was supported in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

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