Diabate's Orchestra Showcases Sounds of Mali Toumani Diabate is a storyteller and musician known for his talents with the African harp, or, Kora. He teamed up with producer Nick Gold of Buena Vista Social Club fame to produce a CD that explores the varied styles found in Mali.
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Diabate's Orchestra Showcases Sounds of Mali

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Diabate's Orchestra Showcases Sounds of Mali

Diabate's Orchestra Showcases Sounds of Mali

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Two legends of world music - one a producer, the other a musician - have created a band so big they needed the entire main floor of a hotel just to gather it together.

Nick Gold, the producer, is known for his work with the Cuban musicians known as the Buena Vista Social Club. And Toumani Diabate is a grio, a storyteller and musician who's known for his gorgeous melodies performed on the African harp known as the Kora. Together, Nick Gold and Toumani Diabate have produced a CD called Boulevard de L'independance with Toumani Diabate's symmetric orchestra.

The music covers the varied styles found in Mali, from old Mundi(ph) empire standards to Senegalese salsa. As Nick Gold says, this isn't the thoughtful, quiet contemplative music that Toumani Diabate usually makes.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. NICK GOLD (Producer, Boulevard de L'independence): It's a huge, powerful unit, which surprised me a lot from Toumani because the music I've heard from Toumani before was much more gentle music, was more Serakora(ph) music. But this group he devised to take on the different roles of the Kora (unintelligible) and the Kora plays, the way Toumani plays, he's evolved this style were as a soloist he plays the bass lines, the accompaniment and the solos. And he wanted to free himself up.

SIEGEL: So the sound, it is big. It is imperially big. I mean, this is big, representing a whole chunk of Africa.

Mr. TOUMANI DIABATE (Kora musician): It's a big band (unintelligible) one or two or three only musicians can just recall (unintelligible) and one side is (unintelligible) but the other side is (unintelligible). Today, the young groups, they don't know about the big band (unintelligible) before (unintelligible) from Nigeria. You know, the young generation, they don't know about that now and the old generation, they missing that old (unintelligible), you know? So this is good chance to put people together, to bring people together and let them play.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: I'd like you to talk about a couple of songs on the album, both of you. One that I'd like you to tell us about is - is it Mali Sabado(ph), is that how you say that?

Mr. DIABATE: Yeah, Mali Sabado.

SIEGEL: This is in part a tradition of song that you -

Mr. DIABATE: Yes, absolutely, many years ago. You know, Mali in our language is meaning hippopotamus, you know is the Mali, so -

SIEGEL: That's where the country gets its name from - from the hippopotamus?

Mr. DIABATE: Yeah. Yeah. This song talking about the love, or the understanding between animals and the village.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: There's a moment, though, when we hear a lot of percussion that made my colleague, Bob Boylen, wonder, has he heard Queen? There's a bit of percussion that sounds like we will, we will rock you.

Mr. GOLD: Well, maybe Queen has listened to Malian music.


SIEGEL: You think it's the other way around?

Mr. GOLD: The particular percussion on that is (unintelligible), which are known as a Senegalese instrument, but it's part of what Toumani's saying, which is part of this (unintelligible) empire idea, whereas the (unintelligible) were very much from part of the Malian music as well. So, it's sort of the reclaiming of the musics which were put outside. But no, I have to agree with you. People have remarked that rhythm is very similar to the Queen tune.

SIEGEL: There are other things that we hear in some of these tracks which are by no means coincidental. People hear sort of a funk horn section in the symmetric orchestra. It's because it's been arranged by a famous funk horn player.

Mr. DIABATE: I took song from several hundred years ago and I put today arrangement. And it's to show this music is not closed, it's open music. When Pee Wee was doing this horn section I was not there in London.

SIEGEL: This is Pee Wee Ellis, who's -


SIEGEL: - for people who they don't know of him, they know of his music from old James Brown records.

Mr. DIABATE: Yeah, that's right. And he cut some very good ideas. He's a friend of Nick so he come in and put salt in the symmetric music.

SIEGEL: He seasoned it for you, you say?

Mr. DIABATE: Yeah.

(Soundbite of music)

SIEGEL: I've read in your biography, you trace your family's involvement with music - do I have this right - 71 generations back?

Mr. DIABATE: Yes. Yes, I'm from 71-generation Kora player father to son and also my son started to play (unintelligible)...

SIEGEL: 72 generations?

Mr. DIABATE: 72 generation, and because I'm Grio. You have to born Grio, you cannot be Grio. Coming from the Grio family is a big school. What are you going to learn? You're going to learn how to play music. You're going to learn, you know, how to keep the history going. You're going to learn how to be storytellers. You know, if people want to marry (unintelligible) you have to be the person in the middle of both families for everything.

SIEGEL: Do you yourself perform weddings in additions to -

Mr. DIABATE: Yes, of course. Yeah. This is my job.

SIEGEL: That's your job?

Mr. DIABATE: Yeah.

SIEGEL: But at some point, when you were young did you have to memorize all of the 71 generations of your family and do all of the Grios all the way aback?

Mr. DIABATE: Absolutely. It's very important because if something bad happened the Grio must be there to bring the peace.

SIEGEL: Well, Toumani Diabate and Nick Gold, thank you both very much for talking with us today.

Mr. DIABATE: Thank you very much.

Mr. GOLD: Thank you.

SIEGEL: Producer Nick Gold with Kora player and singer Toumani Diabate. The new CD is called Boulevard de L'independence by Toumani Diabate's symmetric orchestra.

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