‘Medicine for the Soul’ A Look Into the Life of Madison’s Very Own Afrofunk Star

Mouna Algahaithi, News Editor

Tani Diakite sits in a worn-out gray shirt and baggy pants; his long dreads swing as he caresses the strings of the kamale n’goni, or young man’s harp, sitting on the carpet of his home. My eyes closed, I was taken aback by his performance; the beats of the djembe drum and the sweet strings of guitar float through the air in Mickey’s Tavern. The people were hypnotized by the jazzy, afrofunk melody and the wise words sung by Tani in Bambara, his native language, about love, destiny, and family.

Eyes open, I’m feel humbled, sitting with Tani and his welcoming family in a small, clustered living room, adorned with instruments, tapestry, and toys. Dolls and balls fill the spaces of an entertainment center, couch cushions, corners, and tables; it was every child’s dream. His baby daughter Korika runs across the floor and sits in her mother, Debbie’s, lap. “Would you like anything to eat? Or some tea?” She asked me as I sat down, a familiar glimpse of hospitality that reminded me of the months I had spent in West Africa.

I automatically felt comfortable, and Tani took a seat on the floor beside me while his 9-year-old daughter Fanta showed off her brilliant gymnastic skills. It was borderline chaotic, but as Tani and his family reminisced on brilliant stories, I couldn’t help but let the enchantment of storytelling take over.

After traveling from the wooded grasslands of Mali to the snowy banks of Wisconsin, Tani’s dedication to his family has kept him here for the past 13 years. The mother of his oldest son was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Tani moved here so he could watch over his child while the mother continued her education; a glimpse into the family-oriented culture from which Tani originates.

Despite the early days in Madison when Tani wouldn’t leave the house due to the frozen ground outside, Tani’s music has always been an escape from him. “It’s like medicine for my soul,” he explains.

“When I was five, me and the other boys from the village would play music all the time, every night,” he illustrated, a smile on his face as he recollected the sweet memories of Wassalou, Mali, a southern region in Mali, West Africa. It got to the point that members of his village complained to Tani’s father and asked him to tell his son to stop playing music every night.

“They were farmers, so they had to wake up early, [but as children], all of our energy came to us at night,” Tani laughed. So night after night, in fear that someone would break his instruments if he continued, Tani would hide his instruments in an outlying forest of the village.

At the age of 21, Tani realized that he should pursue his musical passions and moved to the capital, Bamako, where he met other musicians, and then toured around West Africa. “I met good people because of [my] music, and made others happy.”

“I pray that my music will make people happy. [If I didn’t have anything], but people are enjoying my music, then that is enough.”

Tani Diakite and the Afrofunkstars is a relatively well-known band, rising up eight years ago and composed of n’goni, drums, guitar, keyboard, banjo, and other instruments. The band has performed in Ohio, Illinois, and different cities in Wisconsin, playing every second Wednesday of the month at Mickey’s Tavern and every last Friday of the month at Alchemy. “I wish he could travel more,” Debbie admits shyly. “The bar gigs get so tiring, because he works his other [janitorial] jobs during the day, and the gigs usually don’t start till 10,” she explains. “If I had to say one of the things he has taught me, it’s to not take life so seriously. To just live, and enjoy now.”

Although Tani loves all of his music, his favorite song is on his album “Dalonka,” meaning ‘destiny,’ titled “Nara Magan Mandinka.” “It’s difficult to explain, but it’s about a man who left his country and traveled to many other countries, and comes back home to help a lot of people,” Tani explained. Perhaps this is Tani’s ultimate dream, to return to the Wassoulou region and show his family and old neighbors that his n’goni has touched the lives of many, from the time he was running back and forth from the forests, playing forbidden and secret tunes, to now awakening a spiritual presence for many here in Madison. If one were to take away a lesson from Tani’s peaceful and humbling presence, it would be to follow your dalonka with appreciation and gratitude, always remembering your roots while embracing new paths in foreign and distant lands.