Toumani & Sidiki Diabate (Mali)
More than any other kora player, Toumani Diabate has brought this unique 21-string West African harp to global attention. As an instrumental virtuoso, band leader, teacher, musical conservationist and composer, he represents a new generation of Malian griots modernising their musical tradition while still honouring it.
Born into an exceptional musical family – 71 continuous generations of kora players – Toumani was a self-taught child prodigy, playing kora at the age of five, making his public debut at 13, and at 21 he recorded his first solo kora album, Kaira, without retakes in a single afternoon. His influences are sourced from many cultures – Indian classical music, Spanish flamenco, radical free jazz with trombonist Roswell Rudd, producing a wild take on Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.
His collaborations are brave and exciting – with Ali Farka Touré, Salif Keita, bluesman Taj Mahal, Björk, guitar wizard Ali Farka Touré, and Gorillaz/Blur frontman Damon Albarn. He wowed WOMADelaide audiences in 2008, performing with his Symmetric Orchestra, but this year will be joined by his eldest son Sidiki – a griot, master kora player and Hip-Hop star in Mali. The album they recently recorded together addresses the jihadist takeover in Mali, where bans on music were imposed in northern regions, and their songs express weighty concerns with exhilarating energy and joyful optimism.