Toumani Diabaté, the kora guru of Africa, has outdone himself with this collection of solo instrumental pieces. The virtuosity in fingering the kora, the richness of the rhythms and range of melodies is unmatched by anything this Malian musician has done previously. I enjoyed his earlier solo collection, "Kaira", produced twenty years ago and his "New Ancient Strings" (1999), with which he and the younger Ballake Sissoko paid homage to their fathers' musical genius. Yet now, with this CD he has reached a level of maturity, depth and musicality not previously achieved. For fans of the West African kora, this is a must in their collection; for the "newbies", this is a great introduction into a mesmerizing aspect of Malian music and treat to enjoy over and over again. It will very likely become addictive. This is music to lose yourself in, over and over again.
Toumani Diabaté comes from a long line of Malian musicians. His father was the most famous kora player of his time and Toumani often pays credit to him through his music. Nonetheless, the younger Diabaté has refined the abilities of the instrument and enriched the playing techniques over the years. Elements of these could already be detected in the award winning In The Heart of the Moon, a collaboration with the legendary guitarist, the late Ali Farka Touré. Toumani, being largely self-taught, has been open to experimenting with this traditional instrument, without abandoning its unique sound and complex harmonies. As he traveled the world, he absorbed and learned from other musical cultures, such as Indian classical music, flamenco and blues. The compositions on this CD harmoniously integrate such influences with melodies and rhythms of the past. All are his, or presented in his adaptation. Soft melodies that seem to tell gentle stories alternate with more vivacious and energetic pieces. Not surprisingly, a special homage is included for Ali Farka that he would have treasured. Toumani's extraordinary technical skill lets him expand the fingering to incorporate the bass line as an accompaniment creating the impression that two koras are playing. Furthermore, recently Toumani has been experimenting, successfully as the pieces here exemplify, with two differently strung koras, one for the traditional melodies and harmonies, the other for his more "modern" compositions. The photos in the included booklet show the details of the finger settings. The explanations of the background to the two kora stringings and insights into the stories behind each piece are written by the musician himself. A beautiful gift to yourself or for people you care deeply about. [Friederike Knabe]