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. kora diagram.jpg

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.
toumani diabate 14.jpg   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 01.jpg 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 01.jpg 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. jose soto 01.jpg 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 cover.jpg Songhai 1.  “Mani Mani Kuru" 2. “Caramelo” 3. “Vente Pa Madrid” 4. “Africa”       songhai 2 cover.jpg   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.

2 Responses to “TOUMANI DIABATE / “Toumani Flamenco Mixtape””

Chris "DEF" Defendorf Says:
March 3rd, 2009 at 7:48 pm

I just want to say thank you . I have very fond memories of an old girlfriend who worked at a Border’s bookstore and exchanged my copy of Songhai 2 when the light green jewel case got scratched. I have been thinking of this album for the last few days and working on my relationship to the Sacred feminine, the Goddess, She “who hears the cries of the world”.

After I saw this on the mobile web browser, I yelled out “It’s a miracle!” and then after a minute of silence, told her the whole story about this woman (named Jasper) and my fine memories and how I’ve been thinking of this.

Such a great work to see on Breath of Life … I complement you on being so sensitive. I have also recently come across your work in some of my woman’s books.

Beautiful and such a blessing to be able to share fine memories of very fine nights, and then to play a rendition of “Pozo del Dezeo” for h.e.r. (Audrey).

One love and everything from my heart to yours.
This goes out to you… and you … and you!

This makes my move to Bed Stuy all the more wonderful.

Dan Simon Says:
March 6th, 2009 at 7:15 pm

wow…I really like the sound of the kora. After listening, this statement rings true:
He can make his instrument work with any style of music that exists.

on the track “vente pa madrid” … a fusion of sounds. besides the main sound I can hear a european thing in the way some of the chords move. Also…a cuban thing in some of the rhythms.

…and then “africa” comes on. very different (and beautiful too). I think this one is further removed from european influence (maybe not totally removed? especially when the guitar starts strumming and vocals are there) BUT, some of those notes can only be approximated on a piano (its not a western tuning).

I like these sounds a lot.

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