UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds

Toumani Diabaté

Malian musician's songs remain sparkling and other-worldly

By Jocelyn Bell

The Mandé Variations
By Toumani Diabaté (Mali)
World Circuit


A few years ago, I travelled through Mali with a relief and development agency. On a full-day drive from the capital to the rural villages, I looked out at the baobab trees, the mud huts and military checkpoints and wondered if I’d come to a different planet.

I longed for some local music — a soundtrack that would help me make sense of this dry and unusual landscape.

Our driver played a cassette of one of Mali’s (and Africa’s) greatest musical exports, Ali Farka Touré. It worked. The gritty singer-guitarist set the unforgiving sand, heat and dust to music. Another great Malian musician, Toumani Diabaté, has the same effect.

Diabaté plays the kora, a 21-string harp made from a large calabash covered with a cowskin resonator. The complex polyrhythms he produces and the Lydian scale he uses are other-worldly — like Mali itself.

The virtuoso was born into a musical family. His father, Sidiki, was called the king of kora. Toumani is known as the prince. A female cousin is also a premiere kora player. Diabaté’s skill with the traditional West African instrument has taken him all over the world, sometimes collaborating with musicians such as American jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and Icelandic popstar Björk. A collaboration with Touré for the album In the Heart of the Moon won him a Grammy in 2006.

The Mandé Variations is Diabaté’s second solo album and is named for a large West African ethnic group that spans Senegal to Niger. The piece Ali Farka Touré honours his late mentor and is moody like the great guitarist himself. Cantelowes and Kaounding Cissoko, my favourites, are more sparkling and ethereal.

In contrast to the gritty Touré, Diabaté casts Mali in a softer light, one that’s more meditative and serene. Different images spring to mind, like the life-giving Niger river, the elaborate mud mosques at the centre of every village, or the women who carry water jugs on their heads with elegance.

If I ever return to Mali, it’s Diabaté that I’ll pop into the tape player.

Recommended listening:

Boulevard de l’Independence (2006)
In the Heart of the Moon (2005)
New Ancient Strings (1999)

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Announcement

New Observer editor and CEO, Jocelyn Bell. Photo by Lindsay Palmer

New editor named

by Observer Staff

Promotional Image

Editorials

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations

by Jocelyn Bell

We’ll miss you, David Wilson

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: My Year of Living Spiritually

by Observer Staff

Anne Bokma left the Dutch Reformed Church as a young adult and eventually became a member of the United Church and then the Unitarian Universalists. Having long explored the "spiritual but not religious" demographic as a writer, she decided to immerse herself in practices — like hiring a soul coach, secular choir-singing and forest bathing — for 12 months to find both enlightenment and entertainment.

Promotional Image

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

October 2017

A tale of two cancers

by Catherine Gordon

One year after the writer discovered she had breast cancer, her sister in California received the same diagnosis. They both recovered, but their experiences were worlds apart.

Society

November 2017

Trump country

by David Macfarlane

A northern Alabama county voted almost unanimously for Donald Trump in 2016. One year later, the writer, together with photographer Nigel Dickson, travels there to try to understand why.

Faith

November 2017

Involuntary pilgrim

by David Giuliano

The return of a tumour sets David Giuliano on a path he calls his ‘Camino de Cancer’

Faith

November 2017

Grey matter

by Trisha Elliott

Is consciousness just a function of the brain — or something more?

Promotional Image