Mamadou Diabate - Courage
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Mamadou Diabate
Courage
World Village ( www.worldvillagemusic.com)

Coming from a long line of kora-playing Malian djelis must be a very nice thing, but it doesn’t automatically mean a descendant will be proficient on the instrument. It takes commitment to learn to play the 21-stringed kora, and that commitment includes absorbing a considerable amount of traditional repertoire. Mamadou Diabate has gone that traditional route, particularly on his last album Douga Mansa. He’s also a musical explorer (he currently resides in the New York area) who has collaborated with jazz, blues and jam band artists.

His latest CD straddles two worlds. The instrumentation is largely traditional. Besides the kora, there’s ngoni lute, balafon, calabash, djembe and acoustic bass rounding out the ensemble. What Diabate and his mates are playing, though, are new compositions. Two, the elegant “Macky” and the intricate “Kita Djely,” are based on traditional pieces, but the bulk stem from Diabate’s desire to start from scratch. So purists can bask in the unplugged warmth while those who like their West African music to be more than a sonic museum exhibit will appreciate hearing the kora played in a manner that combines inherent virtuosity and renewed freshness.

Fortunately, the middle ground is very solid. Diabate both guides and blends with the other players, his kora out front trading inspiration with the balafon and ngoni atop bass and percussion holding a subtle but strong foundation. Even at its speediest, Diabate’s plucking and strumming of the kora has a delicacy and finesse that does his lineage proud while establishing a signature style (most evident on a couple of solo pieces and the slightly Latin-tinged “Diayeh Bana”) as both player and composer. Recorded in Bamako, the passionately crafted instrumentals that comprise Courage should by all rights become part of the traditional repertoire a few generations from now. -Tom Orr

CD available from cdRoots

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