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The return of the great Toumani Diabaté, an enduring soloist and humanist

Toumani Diabaté has joined forces with the London Symphony Orchestra for the album Kôrôlén, a sumptuous blend of kora and classical music.

“Kôrôlén” means “ancestral” in the Mandingo family of languages. The term is therefore tied to the look and feel of the album, which exquisitely brings together ancient melodies which are dear to the djeli (griots), as well as arrangements designed for western symphony orchestra. A happy marriage, judging by “Haînamady Town,” the very first single that has just been released. In listening to it, we are able to glimpse the thousand facets that the kora player and conductor Clark Rundell were able to explore together on the stage of the Barbican Center in London. The concert, originally recorded in 2008, will soon be available on record. It marks one of the wonders that Nick Gold, the boss of World Circuit Records, has accumulated over the years.

As for Toumani Diabaté, this isn’t his first cross-culture collaboration. He won a Grammy Award for his work with Ali Farka Touré and Ry Cooder, and he has also crossed the strings of his kora with the American Taj Mahal, the Icelander Björk, the Brit Damon Albarn and, more recently, with the French artist “M.” It is a sign that the virtuoso is capable of making his instrument shine under all circumstances, nourished at all times by the sheer depth of West African culture, of which the kora is an enduring symbol: “There is a mystic and classical side to African music, a divinity,” he explains.

His goal with this project? To help the audience to: “Look at this music in a new way, look at African music in a different way.” He adds: “Our music is older than Bach.”  Never before has a kora been a solo instrument in a symphony orchestra. Arranger Ian Gardiner explains: “The important thing was to write music for the orchestra that left room so the Malian musicians could speak over the top.” This very meticulous exercise allowed Toumani Diabaté to make his own adjustments to the arrangements, sublimating the music through the improvisations of his group, which brought together several musicians from famous Malian griot families, such as Lassana Diabaté, Fanta Mady Kouyaté, Fode Kouyaté and Ganda Tounkara. The voice of Kasse Mady Diabaté, who unfortunately passed away in 2018, is also present, like that of an ancestor, reminding us of the thin line between the living and the Kôrôlén.

Pre-order the album here, via World Circuit/BMG, ahead of its April 23 release.

Find Toumani Diabaté and The London Symphony Orchestra on our Songs of the Week on Spotify and Deezer.