Cheick Hamala Diabate - Ake Doni Doni
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Cheick Hamala Diabate
Ake Doni Doni
Grigri Discs (www.cheickhamala.com)

One role a griot is expected to play is that of praise singer, though a Malian griot who has lived in the Washington D.C. area for 14 years might not find such an environment particularly praise-worthy. Still, Cheick Hamala Diabate gets by. And even given that he's a cousin of kora great Toumani Diabate and nephew to Super Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara, it's not just bloodlines in his favor. He's got friends like blues/reggae fusionist Corey Harris and D.C. Afrobeat band Chopteeth lending support and he's got no worries about embracing such down home American instruments as the banjo, which is a descendant of the West African ngoni lute Diabate was already playing before he set foot in the U.S.

The title of his latest CD translates as "Take it Slow," and it is advice he takes only to an extent. Yes, the opening track "Den Woulou Lalou" is a loping, laid-back blend of reggae, bluegrass and African tradition, but the follow up "Wanto Doke" sets the same tradition ablaze with a charging, horn-heavy Afrobeat arrangement and a searing guitar solo. And the experimentation doesn't stop there. A few songs feature Indian tabla in place of the usual African gourd percussion (most elegantly on "Tounka Mani," where sax and organ also add an unexpected flair toward the end), plus there's an instrument that's not exactly one you'd associate with the art of the griot -an accordion- fitting in quite perfectly here and there. Diabate doesn't ditch his roots entirely: he's certainly got the minaret-perched vocal tones needed for the job and a song like "Baba Sissoko Dabia" sounds closer to the main thoroughfare of Bamako than to Pennsylvania Avenue. But what we have here is an immensely enjoyable album that expectations should have no part in. Prepare yourself, however, for the title track, a seamless meeting of Africana and Americana that puts a seal on what is surely on my list of one of the year's best. - Tom Orr

The artist's web site: www.cheickhamala.com

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Cheick Hamala Diabate

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Audio samples, CD and downloads:
Amazon
CD Baby

Cheick Hamala Diabate

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