Mali, in west Africa, is a hotbed of blazing electric guitar players. Two of the most amazing players died recently, and now there is new music out from both of them.

Reviewer Banning Eyre says these posthumous releases are worth tracking down.


BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Back in 1985, a young Zani Diabate became one of the first African musicians to release a successful album in Europe. He was soon crowded out by a flood of superstar African singers, but for anyone who experienced Zani's rocking guitar tone and edgy African phrasing, the sound is unforgettable.


ZANI DIABATE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: That's a self-praising song from a new CD called "Tientalaw" by Zani Diabate and Les Heritiers - The Heirs. Zani's accompanists here include his own son and the surviving sons of key members from his original band. Their youthful energy is part of what makes this album such a thrill, but when Zani takes a solo, it's clear who the real master is.


EYRE: Zani came from venerable musical stock, starting out as a percussionist and evolving into an iconic guitar player. Zani's fusion of rock aesthetics and deep African melody influenced a generation of Malian musicians, including this guy - Lobi Traore.


EYRE: This raw, rowdy, live recording comes from an album called "Bwati Kono," or "In the Club." That's where Lobi thrived, out of the way, working-class nightclubs of the Malian capital, Bamako, where he rocked ecstatic crowds into the wee hours of the night.


LOBI TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language)

EYRE: Lobi was a little guy, 5-feet tall at the most, but he sang about big things - fidelity, honesty, patriotism - and his electric guitar sound drove his messages home with conviction.


EYRE: Lobi was making plans to tour the U.S. with his band when he died from a heart attack in 2010, just 49 years old. Zani passed away a year later, at 64. His heart also gave out, literally as he was picking up his axe to record in a Paris studio.

Despite their heavy sounds, it wasn't rock 'n' roll excess that felled these legends. More likely, it was the relentless grind of hardworking musicians in urban Africa, and maybe the share of those fragile hearts these two great pickers poured into their true grit performances.


BLOCK: Banning Eyre is senior editor at He reviewed "Tientalaw" by Zani Diabate and "Bwati Kono" by Lobi Traore.


TRAORE: (Singing in foreign language)


This is NPR.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from