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On Wednesday, as part of Spoleto Festival USA, Bassekou Kouyate introduced a large and rapt audience at the College of Charleston's Cistern to the timeless patterns of traditional African life through the music of the ngoni.

His concert is the only one I have ever seen where the performers received a dancing ovation.

Kouyate has transformed the ngoni, a stringed instrument similar to a zither or lute, from a background accompaniment for storytellers to a center-stage concert headliner.

He not only plays the 13th-century ngoni, but he and his seven-piece group play a variety of ngoni, differing in size and number of strings to enhance the audience's musical experience.

As re-created and played by Kouyate, the ngoni is not a mere historical curiosity, but a vibrant modern instrument with a new musical vocabulary fitting for the 21st century.

Accompanied by two percussionists and three other ngoni players, Kouyate plays wildly rhythmic traditional music evoking the many emotional moods of a pastoral society.

His modern songs exploit the many new harmonies that the five ngonis can blend and show how well the new ngoni can play jazz and blues.

Amy Sacko, Kouyate's wife and the group's vocalist, has a powerful, expressive voice and a wide dramatic range. Sacko has wonderful stage presence, embellishing her singing with physical flourishes and pounding dance steps.

Even though the audience could not understand what she was singing, they were overwhelmed by the sheer joy of her performance.