Album: Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra

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The Independent Culture

Hot on the heels of last year's collaboration with Ali Farka Touré, this latest of kora master Toumani Diabaté's projects grew out of his Friday night jams at Bamako's Hogon club, which drew an ever-expanding cast of musicians.

The three dozen featured here include such celebrated singers as Kasse Mady and Mangala Camara. The "symmetry" refers to a balance of tradition and progress, drawing on familiar songs from the griot tradition but unafraid to add dance-band elements such as the funk rhythms behind "Single" or the salsa flavour of "Africa Challenge", where Diabaté's dizzying kora runs are set against a punchy backbeat of Senegalese sabar drums.

The mix is further complicated by the later addition of horn arrangements by James Brown's brass leader Pee Wee Ellis, and string arrangements recorded in London. The result is a series of delightful pieces with dense, complex rhythm beds of balafon, drums and percussion overlaid with cyclical West African guitar figures and flurries of kora, tinted with subtle shadings of strings and punctuated with horn stabs - animated enough to satisfy even if you can't follow the local metaphors and morals.

DOWNLOAD THIS: 'Single', 'Africa Challenge', 'Ya Fama'

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