Mady Kouyate was born in Dakar, Senegal, a descendent of the Kouyate family of Dialolu, griots and oral historians of Manding traditional lore for centuries. Kouyate began his role in this long line of musicians at the age of 16, when he began playing the kora, a 21-string West African harp. Relocating to Bamako, Mali, he studied under the virtuoso, Toumani Diabate, as well as attending classes in music theory at the National Institute of the Arts in Bamako. Kouyate began playing kora professionally at 19, performing with Diabate and other artists in the griot tradition throughout West Africa, following that up with a 15-state United States tour in 2000, playing with the Ballet Afrique Noire. His first album, Kelemagni, was released in 2004.