Kouyate was born to sing. Her father was a balafon player, while her mother was a vocalist from Birgo who's musical roots reflected a blend of the fula and bambara styles. As a youngster, Kouyate spent her school vacations singing with her uncle Mady Sylla Kouyate's band, the Apollos, in Bamako. The experience exposed her to the exciting dance music of Mande bands including Bemeya jazz.
While visiting her brother-in-law in the Ivory Coast in 1980, Kouyate was approached by a record producer who agreed to finance her debut recording. Attributed to Kandia Kouyate & the Ensemble Instrumental, Kouyate was actually accompanied on the album by relatives including Kisima Diabate (guitar), Loutigi Diabate (balafon), Amara Sacko (kora), and Ali Barry (flute).
In 1983, Kouyate accepted an invitation to perform a series of concerts in Paris. She stayed in the French city for a year.
A turning point in Kouyate's career came when she was featured on a track, "Kounadi La Beno," on the Sidiki Diabate Ensemble album Ba Togoma. The track was later reissued on the World Network compilation The Divas From Mali. ~ Craig Harris, Rovi