Toumani Diabate

By Miles Turner

This thread is dedicated to the life and music of Toumani Diabate, a prolific kora virtuoso who got his start as a young child prodigy from Mali. Toumani has received the most international acclaim of any African kora player since the 1980’s when he first began touring and recording professionally. Toumani is sometimes called The Prince of The Kora and he was originally trained by his father, Sidiki Diabate, The King of The Kora. Toumani was born in 1965 in Bamako, Mali and it was decided at the age of five that he would play kora. When he was thirteen, he played solo in Mali’s biannual music showcase. In 1984, when he was 19, Toumani toured much of Africa with Kandia Kouyate, an influential Malian female griot singer. In 1987, he released his first international album, a solo effort called Kaira. Since then, he has been accumulating recordings while touring on a world-wide scale. This link has his full discography of internationally released records: Toumani’s Discography. These links provide further in-depth biographical information: Afropop Worldwide Artist Page , General Biography , Toumani’s Page on Cora Connection.

Toumani’s kora technique and musical sensibilities are deeply rooted in the Mande/Mali string tradition. While other popular kora players are focused on modernizing their playing and obtaining a certain level of virtuosity through fast riffs and flashy improvisations,Toumani generally sticks to a traditionally lyrical style. He usually plays his kora in the traditional four-fingered style with a bass line, mid-range harmonies, and interspersed melodies with improvisations. Nevertheless, he has adapted many musical styles of the world, citing the influences of James Brown, Elvis Presley, Louis Armstrong, and even Indian classical music. But Toumani never forgets where he is from. “Malian people know exactly what I’m playing. They say, ‘Toumani, that’s the roots.'” (Toumani Diabate) To get a sense of his basic style, follow these links: Toumani Playing Solo, Toumani’s Myspace Page.

Toumani’s beautiful traditional style is surpassed only by his adaptability. He has played with many different world-renowned artists of varying genres including (but not limited to) flamenco, afrobeat, blues, jazz, fusion, etc. His first collaboration outside of Africa came about when he met the Spanish flamenco group, Ketama, at a party in London in 1988. Toumani immediately appreciated their sense of complex rhythms and quickly recorded an album with the group as well as playing many shows. Here are two examples of this fresh, cross-cultural music: Ketama/Songhai with Toumani Diabate, “Jarabi” by Ketama/Songhai with Toumani Diabate. Toumani has collaborated with Ali Farka Toure, Basekou Kouyate, Keletigui Diabate, as well as countless other African masters. He has also made music with the American blues-man, Taj Mahal. This link has listening samples from their album, Kulanjan: Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate

Toumani’s music has incorporated many aspects of African traditional music as well as Afropop. Listen to “Tapha Niang”(Toumani’s Myspace Page) for an example of how his music blends drumset, electric guitars, electric bass, synthesizers, sabar (Wolof) drums, jembe, dundun, saxophones, trumpets, and trombones. The result is a beautiful example of West African pop music heavily rooted in the Mande tradition. Toumani masterfully weaves genres in a tasteful way, always staying with his fluid, lyrical style. See a recent video of his playing in New York City: 7/19/2007 Toumani at Metrotech, Brooklyn. Read reviews of his music: Reviews of Toumani and Others (click the links on the right).

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