World music review: Mamadou Diabate

Philadelphia InquirerMarch 27, 2011 

  • Courage

The ear-grabbing kora is the ancient 21-string "bridge-harp" instrument of West Africa. Plucked with thumbs and forefingers only, the strings resonate from its body, made of a halved, cowskin-covered gourd. It can sound as ethereal as a harp or as elegant as a harpsichord - and also get down to some Afro-blues earthiness. And if a master kora player from Mali's Diabate family - whose kora tradition goes back more than 70 generations - is nominated for a Best Traditional World Music Album Grammy, chances are he'll win.

Mamadou Diabate's last album, "Douga Mansa," won in that category last year; his older cousin, Toumani Diabate, just scored another Grammy this year for Ali and Toumani, his duet record with the late, great guitarist Ali Farka Toure. Toumani also won for his previous album with Toure in 2006, beating cousin Mamadou's also-nominated solo record "Behmanka."

"Courage," Mamadou's fifth album, is a back-to-Mali effort, recorded there with old friends and his American band's subtle acoustic bassist, Noah Jarrett, in tow. Diabate shines in assaying his newer compositions, like the arid Timbuktu-style "Birigo Blues" and the florid "Kita Djely," celebrating the influential griot tradition of his hometown of Kita, Mali.

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