Cora Connection has a special feeling for Mamadou Diabaté. The young kora player from Kita is currently taking the U.S. world music scene by storm with his ground breaking debut release, Tunga, meaning "adventure," on Alula Records. But years before Diabaté came to live in New York, David Gilden met the star-bound djeli in Bamako.
"During my second trip to Mali," Dave recalls, "I lived next door to Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. Most days I woke up to the sounds of people practicing for performances to be taped at the air-conditioned ORTM Television studio. There was usually a jelimuso (female griot singer) and a group of support players. It was a great opportunity to meet magnificent musicians of all ages. One day I met this tall, thin, young kora jeli everyone called Djelika Djan (literally 'tall griot'). He told me quite matter-of-factly he could play all of Toumani's tracks." And he could!
Mamadou, a.k.a. Djelika Djan, was not yet twenty when he moved from Kita---a six-hour train ride east of Bamako---to the capital to make his way with a little help from his world famous cousin, Toumani Diabaté. Kita is one of Mali's richest towns for jeli culture, and Mamadou had already built a strong reputation for himself. "I had the chance to visit Kita," recalls David, "and I was struck by how similar it was to Brikama in the Gambia, where I had been studying kora for years. Brikama is home to kora musicians Dembo Konte, Malamin Jobarteh and Foday Musa Suso as well as many other Mandinka musicians. In fact, there has been a lot of back and forth over the years between these two centers of jeliya. Sidiki Diabate, Toumani's father, moved from Brikama back to Kita shortly before Mali's independence. Mamadou grew up hearing and learning traditional music thanks in part to ORTM, the government radio station, which played rare old recordings of Manding music."
M'fa Diabaté, Mamadou's father, went to live and work in Bamako when Mamadou was still young. He advised his son to listen to all the great players, and then to make his own way with the music. When Mamadou followed in his father's footsteps in 1993, kora players of his father's generation like, Djelimady Sissoko, Sidiki Diabaté, and Batourou Sekou Kouyaté were still alive. The latter two have since died. Toumani introduced his cousin to the jeli circuit in the capital. "When I met him," recalls David, "he was playing at the Grand Hotel with Farasi Diabaté, son of the great balafonist Keletigui Diabaté. I manged to arrange a few private concerts by Mamadou in my small, hot cement room across the street the Tounkara compound. Unforgettable."
Dave didn't know then that Mamadou would soon be heading for America. Early in 1996, just when I had gone to live in Bamako, Mamadou went abroad with a traveling group from the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali. Mamadou found friends in New York---Fuseini Kouyaté (brother of ngoni ace Basekou Kouyaté) and Abdoulaye Diabaté (half brother of griot singing star Kasse Mady) among others---and decided the Big Apple was for him. I met Mamadou at a concert Toumani played at New York University shortly after I returned from Bamako, and I was immediately impressed with his musicianship.
I was even more impressed when I heard the recording he ultimately made with Fuseini on ngoni, Abdoulaye singing, Famoro Diabaté on balafon, Fode Seydou Bangoura on djembe, and American bassist Ira Coleman. Tunga is a first-class debut, and Cora Connection looks forward to much more from Mamadou and his friends.
Order your copy of "Tunga" direct from Cora Connection
• "Diabaté never lets his flying fingers get in the way of the melody. He's a master at marrying the music of several different cultures Sigma. This disc is a musical adventure in the best sense of the word." Bob McMullough, The Boston Globe.
• "Recent CDs like From Mali to Memphis and Kulangan have emphasized the continuity between Manding traditional music and American blues. But none have made the connection as sublimely as Mamadou Diabaté." Bob Tarte, The Beat.
• "This debut from a young Malian now living in the US puts all kora players on notice with its vitality, scope, and shimmering musicianship." Banning Eyre, The Boston Phoenix.
Visit the Cora Connection music catalog to get all of Mamadou's great recordings.
Also Available: Badenya Manden Jaliya in New York City. This 2002 compilation features 5 tracks of Mamadou Diabaté's original "Super Manding" troupe plus other outstanding musicians in NYC. Read a review of Badenya.