I remember when I was 7 years old, there was a huge tree in the forests near the farm where I spent summers. It had been struck by lightning twice. To keep it from falling and dying, the people of the village had put steel bands around its trunk. One branch was fairly close to the ground, almost forming a cave, and another one a little to the side and higher up. The tree looked strange because of it, a little crooked, but beautiful and majestic nevertheless because of its sprawling branches and soft green leaves, that whispered in the wind.
My mother told us to stay away from the tree because, in all likelihood, another lightning was bound to come and strike it, and us. I sat under this tree for many hours, waiting for the lightning to come. Now I know why people had gone to such length to save it. The farmers knew that without the trees that their crops would be in danger, as it is the trees that hold the water in the ground.
New York based guitarist and singer/songwriter Leni Stern has spent years making musical pilgrimages to West Africa, especially Mali, and bringing back intriguing recordings of her songs, played with amazing traditional musicians she has befriended. And beguiled, with her soft, clear singing voice, sweet and stinging electric guitar playing and gentle wit.
Listen to Leni share about the origins of Blues and the African music connection. The world music shows us how culturally interdependent we are.
Leni is in the 25th year of her career as a recording artist. With her latest release “Sa Belle Belle Ba” and “Sabani” she continues to define herself as a genre-bending master guitarist and timely songwriter. Over the course of her career, Ms. Stern has established her vocal and guitar abilities in jazz, rock, and folk while more recently drawing upon studies and collaborations from her international travels to such places as Kenya, India, Mali, Madagascar and Senegal. Having been awarded the Gibson Guitar’s Female Jazz Guitarist of the Year for five consecutive years, Ms. Stern has also been acknowledged for her songwriting talents by the International Songwriting Competition with 2009’s Honorable Mention in the world music category.
In 2005 Ms. Stern traveled to northern Mali to participate in the Festival in the Desert. It was here that she was introduced to master musicians Bassekou Kouyate and his wife singer Ami Sacko who later joined Ms. Stern in an UNESCO Global Alliance project at Salif Keita’s Bamako Studio, Moffou. Immediately falling in love with the music, the people and the country, Ms. Stern would return to Mali for the better part of two years, fully immersing herself in the griot tradition. Her 2007 EP “Alu Maye”, 2007 full-length “Africa”, and 2009 EP “Spirit in the Water” feature the collaborations she established during her studies and explorations to West Africa.
Born in Munich, Germany Ms. Stern came to the States to attend Berklee College of Music where she studied film scoring and composition. It was there that she began to hone her guitar skills, ultimately moving to New York City to start her first band with Paul Motian and Bill Frisell. It was not long after that she established her own label Leni Stern Recordings, ensuring that she would retain full artistic control of her diverse projects.
The Los Angeles Times: “Leni Stern’s geographic journey yields spiritual fruit.”
The Washington Post: “Stern doesn’t collaborate with the West Africans so much as commune with them, she never sounds out of her element, even when her pop and jazz sensibilities are most apparent.”
Downbeat Magazine: “The integration between Stern’s music and the Mali musicians’ mastery is nearly seamless.”