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Sotigui Kouyaté (born c. 1936) is one of the first Burkinabé actors.[1] He is the father of film director Dani Kouyaté[1] and is a member of the Mandinka ethnic group.[2]

Kouyatés have served as griots for the Keita clan since the 13th century.[2] The Kouyatés guard customs, and their knowledge is authoritative amongst Mandinkas.[2] Keitas have to provide amenities to Kouyatés, who in turn should not hesitate to ask for Keita help.[2] The word Kouyaté translates as "there is a secret between you and me".[2]

Sotigui Kouyaté was born in Mali to Gambian parents and is Burkinabé by adoption.[3] When he was a child, he enjoyed koteba performances.[3] He once played on the Burkina Faso national football team.[3] Kouyaté began his theatre career in 1966, when he appeared as adviser to the king in a historical play produced by his friend Boubacar Dicko.[3] That year, he founded a theatre company in 1966 with 25 people and soon wrote his first play, The Crocodile’s Lament.[3]

Kouyaté worked with Peter Brook in his theater and film projects since the became associated with one another in the Indian epic, The Mahabharata, in 1983.[3] Kouyaté has appeared in over two dozen films, most recently as Jacob in Genesis and Alioune in Little Senegal.[2] Kouyaté played the central role of Djeliba Kouyaté in Dani Kouyaté's 1995 film Keïta! l'Héritage du griot, who was imagined as an old dying man by his son, though was portrayed as more forceful than that.[2] The elder Kouyaté also plays instruments, simple melodies on the kora or flute.[2]

From 1990 to 1996 Kouyaté toured the United States and Europe as part of La Voix du Griot ("Voice of the Griot"), a storytelling theater show which he founded.[4] When asked in an October 2001 interview whether he felt he was carrying a message to Africa, he replied:

Let’s be modest. Africa is vast, and it would be pretentious to speak in its name. I’m fighting the battle with words because I’m a storyteller, a griot. Rightly or wrongly, they call us masters of the spoken word. Our duty is to encourage the West to appreciate Africa more. It’s also true that many Africans don’t really know their own continent. And if you forget your culture, you lose sight of yourself. It is said that “the day you no longer know where you’re going, just remember where you came from.” Our strength lies in our culture. Everything I do as a storyteller, a griot, stems from this rooting and openness.[3]

In 2009, Kouyaté won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale Filmfestival for his acting. He played the male main character in Rachid Bouchareb's drama London River, about the 2005 London bombings.

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