Malian ngoni player and bandleader Vieux Kante died in 2005, aged just 31 years. Kante was on the cusp of international breakthrough and in the process of reinventing the way the ngoni is played. His genius was to find a way of playing sharps and flats on the pentatonic instrument, vastly increasing its harmonic possibilities - including allowing him to play the flattened thirds, diminished fifths and flattened sevenths that are the signature tones of jazz and blues.
Blind from childhood, Kante was bursting beyond Malian tradition from the get-go. In 1987, aged 13, he added two additional strings to the ngoni’s six. In 1997, he graduated to 10. In 2000, to 12. With each step, the instrument’s range was extended.
Shortly before he died, Kante and his six-piece band recorded the album which Sterns are releasing as The Young Man’s Harp. Kabadjan Diakite adds vocals to three of the seven tracks. It’s a blinder: the calling card of an acoustic musician who seemed destined, in his own way, to be as powerful a force for change as Jimi Hendrix was on the electric guitar decades earlier. No-one else has yet stepped up to the mark. The Young Man’s Harp delivers much, but also reminds us how much more we have been denied by Kante's early death.