A master of the kora (21-string West African harp), Toumani Diabaté has brought the traditional music of his native Mali to the attention of an international audience with a series of well-received solo albums and some unlikely, but acclaimed, collaborations. Although he came from a family of musicians, Diabaté (born August 10, 1965) taught himself to play the kora at an early age, as his father, who also played the instrument, was often away touring. He developed a style of playing that, while being strongly rooted in the Malian tradition, is also open to a wide range of other influences, such as jazz and flamenco. He has subsequently sought out other musicians from around the world who are willing to experiment with him, even performing a concert in Amsterdam with a classical harpist.
Ali Farka Touré and Toumani Diabaté come across like the Odd Couple of Malian music. Touré is the tall, bespectacled veteran with the long fingers and a wide grin, looking very relaxed as he settles down to play a loping riff on his acoustic guitar. Diabaté is younger, shorter, more intense, arranging himself in front of his kora, the ancient, multi-stringed west African harp. When you see him on video, you can’t quite believe just how quickly his fingers dance around all those strings.
The guitarist is from the north of Mali, one of the breakthrough world music artists of the 1980s and 1990s, whose “African blues” alerted a generation of guitar-loving rock fans to the treasures that lay outside the Anglo-American faultlines of rock’n’roll. And Diabaté is from the south - a Mandé griot schooled in a tradition that can be traced back to the 13th century.
The music they make together on In the Heart of the Moon is subtle but relaxing. In the pampered first world, it makes ideal Sunday afternoon music, laid-back and gentle, largely based on the Mandé tunes of the “Jamana kura” or “new era”, when Mali broke free from its colonial past. (Mali became an independent republic in 1960.)
We’re used to world music hybrids between east and west; between electric and acoustic; and between the head and the heart. One of the distinctions of this album is that it is a hybrid of two Malian traditions that rarely meet. Though Diabaté and Touré have known and admired each other for many years, they have hardly ever played together. This gives their collaboration a special quality: it is simple yet richly detailed, spontaneous yet courteous…..-John L Walters - Guardian
Friday June 24, 2005