Zani Diabaté and Les Héritiers - Tientalaw

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Zani Diabaté and Les Héritiers
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In the mid-1980s when many North Americans were getting their first tastes of music from other countries outside of Europe, record labels began to search for the “next Bob Marley.” Guitarist Zani Diabaté, who had established himself in the Malian music scene, got hooked up with Mango Records, and his first international release, in 1988, evoked some hype about his being “the Jimi Hendrix of Mali,” as if each country was rationed only one.

The traditional-modern hybrid, with its easy-to-like, hypnotic grooves were easy to like, but as with King Sunny Ade, the U.S. market proved to be too daunting a climb, and Diabaté settled into a life as a bandleader in west Africa with a respectable career.

Twenty-four years later, Diabaté’s latest, and unfortunately last, album arrives in a music scene that is much more open. The “jam band” circuit, which was unnamed back in the 1980s (except known loosely as Deadheads), has embraced several international performers, and Tientalaw, with its deep grooves and occasional flashes of solo brilliance from Diabaté, would seem a natural fit.

Diabaté actually was unlike the more-flamboyant Hendrix, blending into the undulating waves of rhythms cooked up by his bandmates. In fact, at times, it’s almost hard to find him in the mix, which is actually fine given the band’s affable sounds.

When Diabaté does strike, he shows himself as a creative lead guitarist who can bounce along on the waves of music, embellishing them without disturbing them, hitting unexpected turns of mercurial melody that flash and then disappear.

Mostly, this is mid-tempo groove stuff, easy-going popular music with a strong presence of traditional African sounds laced through the blend. As Diabaté was finishing up this album, he collapsed on the way to the Paris recording studio and died soon after from a stroke. While it is tempting to want to look for something grand in this sudden coda to his long career, the best that can be said is that he finished in the same fine way he carried himself through countless sessions: with restraint noteworthy for a “name” bandleader and with uplifting strikes of instrumental pyrotechnics when it was his time to step forward and lead. - Marty Lipp

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