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4.9 out of 5 stars
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on 14 June 2008
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]
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on 29 July 2008
Unlike New Ancient Strings and Kaira, on which every track is superb, this latest album has a couple of less strong, meandering improvisations that really demonstrate nimbleness of fingers rather than great musicianship. If you are already a fan, definitely buy it, but if this is your first, I'd recommend New Ancient Strings or Kaira.
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on 10 October 2008
If you do not want the hair on your neck to stand up and goosebumps to appear on your arm then don't buy it, because this CD is truly brilliant. It's different to his others but that is the greatness of this guy. Some of the tunes relate to his experiences in the UK and he even plays with us in Cantelowes when you hear the start of the sound track for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Hey this guy has humour as well as brilliance.
With the world falling about our ears and all the talk of greed and corruption just buy this and take your mind to some calm and peaceful place. This can really contribute to your sanity. I'm off to chill out with this CD. I have all his CDs but this is really set apart, perhaps it stands out becasue it is less traditional, please buy it and you will not be disappointed, trust me
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 2 November 2012
This album comes highly acclaimed, winning awards and complimentary reviews alike, including 'Songlines' magazine. The music here covers the spectrum from traditional kora pieces (played on a kora over 40 years old, given to him by his father) such as 'Djourou Kara nany' to melodies influenced by pop, Indian, flamenco and blues styles, (played on a modern kora with machine-head 'Egyptian' tuning),and written by Diabate, such as 'Ali Farka Toure', his tribute to the great African guitarist, who duets with him on the meltingly beautiful In the Heart of the Moon.

Similarly, the music here covers a wide range of moods as well as styles, from shimmeringly slow and exquisite, to bubbling up-tempo pieces where diamond-sharp notes scatter and shower from the kora. Sound quality is excellent, with the kora feeling as if it were in the room with you. The accompanying booklet is also a thing of quality, with informative notes, plus an introduction to each piece by Diabate himself, and many complementary photos.

Despite the variety and range, not perhaps music to be absorbed in a single session ( those new to kora should first investigate the superb Diabate compilation King of the Kora: An Introduction). However, the richness and complexity here rewards each repeat visit.
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on 4 March 2008
I have come late to this kind of West African instrumental music. The Mande Variations is a masterpiece and highly accessible. Helped by a beautiful recording, this is an ideal entry to Diabate's music and I suspect that once sampled the listener will be compelled to seek more. I know I have!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 13 March 2008
Toumani Diabate is a Malian master of the kora(a 21-stringed West African harp). 'The Mande Variations' is only his second solo album although Toumani has been a guest of various artists such as Ali Farka Toure('In The Heart of the Moon'), Bjork('Volta'), Taj Mahal('Kulanjan') and Roswell Rudd('Malicool'-see my review).
This beautifully recorded acoustic album is a masterpiece of traditional African music which should appeal to a wide audience and deserves to be a strong contender for World Music record of 2008.
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on 20 February 2009
I treated myself to 'The Mande Variations' for Christmas, tacked on to my presents-order, just in case I didn't receive anything to listen to. The aural gap didn't materialise but I guiltily found myself playing this in front of the CDs I did receive.

It is a marvellous piece of music; the playing is virtuoso but never gets in the way of the charm, the warmth and the wit. Every track has humanity, verve and a joy of living that stops the poignancy and wistfulness becoming sentimental.

If this is your first venture in Malian music, in the past I've liked singers Salif Keita and Boubacar Traoré and Kora player Jali Musa Jawara (on vinyl but CDs available).
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on 18 April 2009
It's so easy to get caught up in the beauty of the kora sound - and this guy is arguably the best kora player around - and buy up all of Toumani Diabate's work. I bought this being familiar with some of his previous work and was enticed by the teasingly brief Ennio Morricone intro to Cantelowes - I must have it. I wasn't disappointed, it's a beautiful album and a good example of the classical sound and style of playing, but I agree with other reviews; if you don't want to buy the whole collection, his ''New Ancient Strings'' is a similar though slightly sweeter choice and probably a better place to start.
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on 6 June 2008
The playing is faultless reminds me, with its interweaving of melodies, of Keith Jarret and his Koln Concerts. It crams so much depth into something that on the surface sounds so simple. You will get more from this CD every time you listen to it and you will listen to it a lot
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on 2 August 2008
I bought this as part of the run up to the 2008 WOMAD and I am so glad that I did. This is a work of great virtuosity that transports me to another world. I feel humbled by the presence of Diabate's playing genius and simultaneously soothed by music of great beauty. Oh and by the way he was as good live as he is on disc. I can highly recommend this CD to anyone wanting to experience superb music and a living African legend.
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