Katenen Dioubate ... a.k.a. CHEKA

Among the Mandé peoples of western Africa, caste is destiny; among Katenen Dioubate ... a.k.a. CHEKA

Among the Mandé peoples of western Africa, caste is destiny; among the Dioubaté clan of Kankan, Guinea, the men and women are born to sing. Whatever else they do—going into business, higher education, or homemaking—each generation of Dioubaté is responsible for learning its society’s history, its favourite stories, and its great people’s lineages, and for entertaining its audiences therewith in song. Each generation is responsible, in short, for serving the community as jeli (known in the West as griots).

Katenen Dioubaté took to her calling from a tender age. She made her public debut singing for her school at the competitive Sékou Touré Kankan (festival) when she was all of 7 years old. Her school would win the festival every year until she graduated. Katenen’s teachers often let her miss lessons to practise her craft, with their desk as her stage and the class her audience. (Only her teachers could explain whether they were nurturing a prodigious talent, or prolonging her schooling to capture more trophies.) With aunts and other family to foster her talents, Katenen performed at a wide array of community and public events that required the presence of a jeli—baptisms, weddings, parties—where her voice so endeared her to the people of Kankan that everyone began to call her chère Katenen, shortened in the end to Cheka.

Cheka made her Toronto debut in January 2007 at the NOW Lounge, in a tribute to the late kora master Boubacar Diabaté. This was followed by appearances at the Lula Lounge and at AfroFest Toronto the same year. At Afrofest 2007 she shared the stage with world-renowned kora player Toumani Diabaté before an audience of 10,000 in a performance that was broadcast nationally on CBC radio, Canada’s national radio station.

Cheka has a great desire to share her beloved Mande’ culture with all Canadians and spearheaded the establishment of Toronto’s Mamaya, a secular West African festival. This annual celebration of unity and equality was born, like Cheka herself, in Kankan and over successive generations, spread to the neighbouring countries of Côte D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal. Mamaya has even gained a foothold in New York City. Cheka was the one to present Canada’s first ever Mamaya event in August 2006.

In 2009 Cheka shared the stage with Ballake Sissoko, the world-renowned kora player at York University where she explained the history of the Mande’ Jeli, and the meaning behind several Jeli traditions. She has also discussed the role of the Jeli through dance and music presentations at primary and middle schools in Toronto North York.

As a griot, Katenen has a strong foundation in a profound and vast tradition. As a new Canadian she has the resources and technology to make music that both reflects her Mande’ tradition and is accessible to world listeners. All who hear her agree that she is bound to make her mark on the Canadian and World music scenes.

In July of 2010 Cheka launched her first CD album titled Djelilou produced by Quammie. The title track “Djelilou”, is a moving tribute to all Jelis, her mother and father and the rich tradition that they have passed down. The CD launch featured Guinean superstar Sekouba Bambino and an all star band led by Ivorian keyboardist and arranger David Mobio.