TOUMANI DIABATE / “Toumani Flamenco Mixtape”
Last week we featured Toumani Diabate in the contemporary section, this week he’s in the classic section. Toumani is from Mali and he is a master of the kora, a West African string instrument.
The Mandinka kora is a unique instrument with a harp-like appearance and a notched bridge similar to that of a lute or guitar. It sounds somewhat like a harp, but its intricate playing style can be closer to flamenco guitar. The first known reference to the kora comes from Mungo Park in his 1799 book, Travels in Interior Districts of Africa. He describes it as "a large harp with 18 strings." The kora's body is made from a calabash gourd cut in half and partially covered with cow skin. Traditionally, there are twenty-one playing strings plucked by the thumb and forefinger of each hand. The remaining fingers grip the two vertical hand posts. For strings, players use fishing line which provides a brilliant tone and is easily obtained at the local market. Twenty-one anchor strings attach the playing strings to an iron ring bored through the base of the kora's hardwood neck. The player tunes the kora by moving the leather rings to achieve the appropriate tension on each string. Kora players use a variety of tunings. The Gambia has more kora players than Mali, Guinea and Senegal. In these countries they sometimes use the French spelling cora.Beyond Toumani’s mastery of the kora, is the fact that as a musician he has the mind of a genius. No music is unapproachable. He can make his instrument work with any style of music that exists. Back in 1988 he was visiting London and he was offered an opportunity to jam with some flamenco musicians from Spain. The session turned out so wonderful, they decided to do a recording. The recording group was called Songhai, in honor of the ancient West African kingdom. Songhai consisted of Ketama, Danny Thompson, and Toumani Diabate. Ketama became internationally recognized as one of the founders of the new flamenco movement. For most of its existence as an ensemble, Ketama was composed of two brothers, Antonio and Juan Miguel Carmona, and a cousin, Juan Carmona. Ketama performed as a group for twenty years and became one of Spain’s most popular musical groups. Danny Thompson is a British bass player who was a founding member of the folk rock group, Pentangle. Thompson has played with a seeming endless list of British and international musicians. Six years later saw the release of a second recording, appropriately called Songhai 2. Some critics prefer the second album which included vocal work by José Soto Sorderita, who was one of the founders of Ketama who have left the group. The reunion for the recording was felicitous. The BoL mixtape includes four tracks from each of the two Songhai albums: Songhai 1. “Mani Mani Kuru" 2. “Caramelo” 3. “Vente Pa Madrid” 4. “Africa” Songhai 2 5. “Pozo del Deseo” 6. “Djamana Djana” 7. “De Jerez a Mali” 8. “Pozo del Dese0 – instrumental” Songhai was the first popular recording to combine kora and flamenco. There have been several others since but none have matched the electrifying effect of Songhai, a true classic of the music. —Kalamu ya Salaam
This entry was posted on Monday, March 2nd, 2009 at 6:45 pm and is filed under Classic. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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