Toumani Diabate - Biography

Toumani Diabaté is a Malian kora virtuoso. The cross-cultural pollination of his music has resulted in his being charged by some for tailoring his music to western audiences. However, the fact that his discernable influences include Egyptian and Indian music suggest he’s simply an adventurous player with no interest in catering to purists.


Diabaté was born August 10th, 1965 in Bamako. His mother was singer Nene Koita. His father Sidiki Diabaté, was dubbed “King of the Kora” and recorded in 1970 the first album to feature the instrument, Cordes Anciennes. The couple performed together in the government-sponsored Ensemble National Instrumental. Favored by the first leader of the post-colonial era, Modibo Keita, the Diabatés were rewarded with land near the presidential palace, where they made their home.


With his father often on tour, Toumani Diabaté taught himself to play the kora. He first traveled to Europe in 1986 with singer Ousmane Sacko, where he performed at the WOMAD festival. He ended up staying in London for seven months and was introduced to Indian music, which he incorporated into his style. His debut, Kaira, (1988 Hannibal) was the first solo kora recording and was recorded in a single afternoon by Lucy Duran.


The same year, Diabaté formed the band Sonhai with members of the flamenco group, Ketama, and renowned bassist, Danny Thompson. They released their self-titled debut, Songhai, (1988 Nuevos Medios). Diabaté then began performing at festivals all over the world, interacting with various musicians. In 1990, he formed another group, The Symmetric Orchestra. The members were all from the modern nations of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal; all formerly part of the powerful, medieval Manden Kurufa (Manden Federation).


1995 saw the release of both Songhai 2 (1995 Nuevos Medios) and Djelika, (1995 Hannibal), on which he collaborated with balafon player Kélétigui Diabaté and ngoni player Basekou Kouyate.  At that point, Diabaté returned to performing mostly in Mali. The title of New Ancient Strings (1999 Hannibal) was a reference to his father’s seminal work and also featured kora player Ballaké Sissoko, whose father had also performed on Cordes Anciennes. The same year, with singer Kassé-Mady Diabaté and American guitarist Taj Mahal, he recorded Kulanjan (1999 Hannibal).


Another collaboration followed in 2002, when Diabaté, Damon Albarn, Ko Kan Ko Sata Doumbia, and Afel Bocoum recorded the acclaimed Mali Music (2002-EMI). Another left-field collaboration was with American free jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd, Malicool (2002 Universal). The following year he appeared in the film, Bamako Is a Miracle. Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté’s In the Heart of the Moon (2005 World Circuit). The sessions were cut over four days in June of 2005 and were Touré’s last. The famed guitarist dyed the following year after battling cancer for years.


In 2006, Diabaté once again appeared at WOMAD in the UK as well as Denmark’s Roskilde and Hungary’s Sziget. Boulevard de I'Independence (2006 World Circuit) was followed by The Mandé Variations (2007 World Circuit) and an appearance on Björk’s Volta. In 2007 he performed at Glastonbury and then toured the US. One of his performences was recorded and released as, Toumani Diabaté - Koraklänge aus dem Land der Flusspferde (2007). In 2008, he performed at Australia’s WOMADelaide.  His released, Ali Farka Touré & Toumani Diabaté (2010 World Circuit), which was drawn from the same session recorded shortly before Touré’s untimely passing. In 2011 he released A Curva da Cintura.


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