Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Interview with Toumani Diabate

David Hutcheon interviews Toumani Diabate.
You don't get false modesty with Toumani Diabate. When he welcomes me into his Seville suite the Malian kora player casually refers to his forthcoming album, The Mande Variations, as his “new masterpiece”. The awkward thing is that in an age of spin and hyperbole, it is difficult to disagree with him. Recorded in two hours, it consists of eight one-take, no-overdub instrumentals of such dazzling virtuosity that Europe's world-music critics have been summoned en masse to Andalusia to watch him perform. There is a scrum as we clamour to get a seat near the stage in the tapestry room of the old royal palace, the Alcazar. We all want to see how he does it.

“Any time I play a kora what results could be a CD,” he says before the concert. “That's why I invited you here to see this show. I cannot explain what is happening when I play. It's like I'm fighting something. But you don't need to be African to understand the message. Just sit down and listen carefully. It will touch you.” The kora is West Africa's harp. A lute made by sticking a thick pole through the side of a large gourd covered in a cow skin and then attaching 21 strings (traditionally fishing line) in two rows to both the pole and a bridge on the gourd. “But there is more to the kora,” Diabate adds. “You have to understand that it is unique, you have to know the significance of each part and the way it is built, then you have to learn the techniques, the spirit of the kora, what the music is talking about.” Such as?
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