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Artist’s Choice: Leni Stern on West African Music

The guitarist and honorary griot pays tribute to Salif Keita, Youssou N'Dour, and more in this playlist

Leni Stern
Leni Stern (photo: Sandrine Lee)

I owe an enormous gratitude to West Africa and all of the musicians that I’ve had the honor of playing with; they have been my teachers and still are. I was always interested in finding out where the blues came from and everybody always said that it came from Africa, but nobody explained to me exactly how. I feel very lucky that I was able to immerse myself in that culture as deeply as I have and that I’ve been accepted as an honorary griot. What qualifies you to be a griot is the ability to improvise and to express emotion and tell a story. I hope people who listen to this music enjoy it as much as I do.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all the songs in this Artist’s Choice:

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Leni Stern

Leni Stern is a guitarist and vocalist who has released nearly 20 albums as a leader since 1986. In 2005, she was invited to perform at the Festival au Desert in Timbuktu, Mali. There she met Bassekou Kouyate and dove headfirst into the traditions of West African guitar and, later, the ngoni. Stern’s most recent release is 3, a collaboration with Mamadou Ba and Alioune Faye. Visit for more information.