Toumani Diabaté: Si Naani
Toumani DiabatÃ© (kora)
The Mandé Variations (Nonesuch 433724)
Toumani DiabatÃ© (kora).
Traditional, arranged by Toumani Diabaté.
Recorded: London, no date given (CD released in 2008)
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
The stereotyped view of African music presents it as dominated by drums—you remember the old Hollywood films with the rhythmic throbbing in the background and some old geezer in explorer garb pronouncing: "The natives are restless tonight." I hate to disappoint you, but many of my favorite recordings of African music have no drums on them. In fact, one could make a case that the string tradition is the crowning glory of the continent, and the various traditional cultures present us with countless instruments that remind us, in varying degrees, of our own Western guitars, harps, banjos, lutes and the like.
The kora has a special place in the pantheon of African string instruments, at least based on the hold it exerts over the Western imagination. This 21-string harp has long fascinated outsiders with its prepossessing appearance, the fragile beauty of its music, and its social role as accompaniment to the griots who are the preservers of local tradition and history. Toumani Diabaté is the leading exponent of the kora in the current day, and has been known in the West ever since the release of his Kaira recording in 1988. But Diabaté is more than the preserver of old traditions; he also has focused on bringing the kora into the modern day. He has collaborated with various jazz, pop and blues artists, as well as played a key role on several iconoclastic "world fusion" projects. His 2008 release The Mandé Variations is more traditional in flavor, but even here Diabaté shows off his innovative "Egyptian tuning" of the kora, which gives his playing a more exotic flavor. On this track, he puts his personal stamp on two traditional works—a love song from northwest Mali and a 19th-century griot piece praising Fula warriors from central Mali—and shows that love and war can coexist, at least in the world of musical performance. This moving 10-minute track, and indeed the whole CD, will leave you anything but restless tonight. This release is an important contribution to Diabaté's oeuvre and is one of the most important recordings of traditional African music in recent memory.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia
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