Toumani Diabate has to rank as one of the most gifted kora players living today. Though he lives in Bamako, Mali, his recording career started in England with his 1988 solo kora album, Kaira (Rykodisc/Hannibal). He has also collaborated with the Spanish "new flamenco" group, Ketama. Their combined group, known as Songhai, has two intriguing international releases, Songhai I (1989) & Songhai II (1992).
In Toumani's 1995 recording, Djelika (named after his daughter), presents the young kora giant in a mostly-Malian context accompanied by a great elder of the wooden balaphone, Keletigui Diabate, a young lion of the banjo-like ngoni, Basekou Kouyate, and bassist Danny Thompson, a veteran of the Songhai session who adds tasteful underpinnings. Toumani has always had a knack for making his music accessible to foreigners. He leaves off the dramatic vocals that typically accompany kora recordings, perhaps because many foreign listeners find them hard to get past. That choice highlights the spectacular interplay of the three Malian players, whose palpable chemistry reveals the fact that they perform together frequently in Mali. Kora, balaphone and ngoni work together in lock step on Marielle, and branch out with melodious soloing on Mankoman Djan.
The group ventures into the bluesy territory of Malian Wassoulou music on Tony Vander with Thompson's bass taking the deep tugging role of the kamele ngoni (hunters harp), a kind of six string bass kora used in that music. On Cheick Oumar Bah, a kora and bass duo, Toumani reveals himself as the Keith Jarrett of the kora cycling through beautifully loping melodies that shift organically, drawing the listener in with hypnotic warmth. West African acoustic music doesn't get any friendlier than this.
Both Songhai releases are currently out of print. However Djelika is available from Cora Connection.
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