on 23 September 2005
Listening to Toumani Diabaté's NEW ANCIENT STRINGS is the next best thing to sitting in the audience of one of his concerts in Bamako (the capital of Mali and Toumani's hometown). Toumani has become one of the world's leading interpreters of the 'kora', a 21-string, traditional African harp-lute, which originates in Mali. The string arrangements around the body of the instrument and along the long neck make it a complex instrument to play. At the same time, it allows the musician to create complex harmonies ideally suited for a solo instrument. It was the favourite instrument at the courts of the kingdoms of Mali, going back to at least the 13th century.
The melodies in this collection, passed down from the rich Malian music traditions are newly interpreted by Toumani. Both he and Ballade Sissoko, who accompanies him, are sons of two outstanding Malian musicians, revered till today across all of West Africa. The techniques and interpretations have evolved since then and are still changing and adapting to popular styles. NEW ANCIENT STRINGS is a completely instrumental collection of these traditional Malian tunes and rhythms, most going back to the eighteenth century. They will not be well known to the listener outside West Africa but the interpretations by Toumani make them easily accessible to the unaccustomed ear. The virtuosity of the players enables the music to flow in beautiful rhythms and brings out emotional depth as well as playful harmonies.
NEW ANCIENT STRINGS is not only a great introduction to West African music it is also a great addition for everybody who enjoys traditional solo instrumental music of lute, guitar or harp. [Friederike Knabe]
on 15 February 2000
The artists recorded this album in the shadows of their respective fathers who combined on the original 'Ancient Strings' at the heights of their own powers. Their album has become a standard document of traditional Malian songs played on the Kora, a multi stringed instrument vaguely looking like a banjo (but sounding more like a harpsichord). This modern version is purely instrumental and unaccompanied but takes the complex melodies and weaves delightful lyrical pictures, the two artists contributing layers of detail and rhythym. The music is in many ways timeless, and at times placeless; some of the songs resemble no less than traditional indian ragas in their structure and almost mesmeric quality. It is an album that deserves careful and repeated listening to enjoy its depth of quality and musicianship, rather than being an 'instant' hit. The interested may like to try 'Kulanjan' where Toumani combines with the blues artist Taj Mahal on an interesting exploration of the origin of the blues. A more oblique route might include Pandit Shiv Kumar 'Sampradaya' on RealWorld for an asian example of similar quality and atmosphere.
on 21 January 2001
My favourite album of 2000 and one which confirms the continuing maturity of Toumani Diabate and his lyrical style of kora playing. Check out his first solo album which is also most impressive, as well as his willingness to blend with Western music, such as on the brilliant Kulanjan and the Songhai albums.
If you get the opportunity to see him, go.
on 21 January 2009
The most exciting African discovery I have made since my adventures into the continent's music began a decade or so ago. Toumani is an absurdly talented musician, who's intricate playing of his kora in modal and minor keys creates some hauntingly beautiful melodies.
Mali is the centre of world music, I believe, and Toumani has taken the mantel of his mentor Ali Farka Toure as the centre of Malian music.
This album demands to be owned, the music is too beautiful for words.