Toumani Diabaté.

Recently at a friend’s house for dinner, the background processing part of my mind quickly picked up on the background music station that was playing on Pandora.  The general aesthetic was often beautiful, and on several pieces I picked up a sound that was clearly not a guitar, not a harp, not a hammered dulcimer–and yet reminiscent of all of these things.

The sound was mesmerising.  It bore insistently into the part of my hindbrain where I live, and I kept trying to figure it out.

Oud?  No.  I’ve never heard an oud played like that;  I’m not sure it would be physically possible for a single player to do it, even if highly skilled in harp-style playing technique.  It didn’t sound like an instrument that is played lute-style on a fingerboard, but the string sound was clearly in that category nonetheless.

Koto?  The string sound was close, but it just didn’t seem right.  Koto was my initial guess, but again I’ve never heard koto played like that, and koto players almost always employ at least some of the string-bending articulation that goes with the traditional styles.  Whatever this was didn’t seem to employ any of that.  No, it was something else, and I simply could not figure it out.

So, in the interests of not wanting to be unsociable in this nagging quest to test myself (I love my friends), I just asked.  And that is how I became introduced to the Malian kora, and to Toumani Diabaté.

Holy virtuoso, Batman.  How crazy is it that I have gone this long without hearing this man’s work?  It’s not like I’m alien to west African music–but then again most of my interest has been in the magnificent drum rhythms, not the melodies.

Very well then.  I’ll consider myself both humbled and delighted for the discovery, however late.  (Things like this make me wonder:  what other loveliness might I stumble over tomorrow?  And that makes me smile.)  Needless to say, I’ve now got a Pandora station seeded on Toumani Diabaté, and thus far I am extremely impressed both at the general aesthetic of where Pandora has led me therefrom, and also at Diabaté himself, who appears to be both technical wizard and master of feel. Check this out as just one example:

Even among all the other obvious awesomeness, his muting really stands out, to my ears.  Wow.  And for an even clearer view of the playing style, watch him here with his father Sidiki:

So…insistently…lovely.

Had to dish a bit here, and lay the bookmarks.  Yes, add all this to the short list please!

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Kevin Wilmeth

Professional geek. Amateur human. Credible threat to musical instruments anywhere. (I can't help it. Ideas just invade my brain...)

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