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]