Guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player Toumani Diabaté, both of whom come from Mali, are two of Africas greatest musicians. In the Heart of the Moon
is their first full-length album collaboration and it is also the first new album by either artist in 5 years. The original idea was that they would duet on just one track, but their creativity could not be contained, and the result is an albums worth of new material. There were no rehearsals, and the improvised performances were recorded over three magical two-hour sessions at the Hotel Mandé, on the banks of the Niger River, in Bamako, Mali.
With Ali on acoustic guitar and Toumanis kora, there was some extraordinary interplay between the pair. The recordings also feature subtle contributions from Ry Cooder on kawai piano & ripley guitar, Sekou Kante and Cachaíto López on bass, and Joachim Cooder and Lekan Babalola on percussion.
This long-awaited album of duets by two giants of Mali's music scene is a gem that unites two major streams of traditional West African music. The desert blues of guitarist Ali Farka Touré draws heavily on the northern Songrai/Peul culture, while kora maestro Toumani Diabaté is from the southern Mandé culture. And although it sounds like an established partnership made in heaven, demonstrating the kind of rapport that usually only comes from years spent playing together, it's actually their first significant collaboration. That's virtuosity for you.
Brought together in a makeshift studio for the very first time by producer Nick Gold, they recorded three short unrehearsed sessions over consecutive days, revisiting a repertoire of Malian songs that mostly date from the late 50s and early 60s, known to both through familial, professional and folkloric connections some of which go back several centuries. The minimal accompaniment of percussion, bass, guitar and keyboard added later generally enhances rather than intrudes on their wonderfully flowing, acoustic meditations, with Toumani Diabaté's rippling kora taking most of the melodic leads, and the guitar providing backing. So it's really a kora album, with Ali only occasionally soloing or adding the odd spoken word comment.
The last three tracks are new versions of songs from Ali Farka Touré's back catalogue, with only the slightly stiff version of "Hawa Dolo" a disappointment if compared to the breathtaking original on his best album, The Source. Elsewhere, this is a gorgeous instant classic, up there with Toumani Diabaté's best work on New Ancient Strings and Kaira.
These are two artists who seem to subscribe to the less is more philosophy, both in the sparseness of their arrangements and the frequency of their releases. So it's exciting news that both also have full band albums due shortly after this and that there's another collaboration in the pipeline... --Jon Lusk
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