Album: Toumani Diabaté, The Mandé Variations (World Circuit)

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The Independent Culture

What with the various combos, orchestras and collaborations that occupy him, it's now two decades since Toumani Diabaté's first solo album, Kaira, which helped put kora music on the world map.

This follow-up is worth the wait, offering a dazzling demonstration of the breadth and virtuosity of Diabaté's playing, and of the innovative tunings and tactics with which he expands the instrument's traditional range. The most striking of these is probably the "Egyptian" tuning employed on the opener "Si Naani", which combines griot melodies from central and northern Mali usually restricted to the ngoni lute.

The gently undulating, cyclical arpeggios underpinned by a rolling bassline are typical of the album, climaxing in the first of several extraordinary flurries of notes. There is a similarly breathtaking exercise in adrenalised minimalism for his tribute to Baaba Maal's late kora player, "Kaounding Cissoko"; a more sombre piece dedicated to Diabaté's spiritual guide, "Ismael Drame"; and an improvised tribute to the guitarist, "Ali Farka Touré", in which the abstract phrases are presented like a string of individual glittering cameos.

Download this: 'Si Naani', 'Kaounding Cissoko', 'Ali Farka Touré', 'Ismael Drame'