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A master of the kora (21-string West African harp), Toumani Diabaté has brought the traditional music of his native Mali to the attention of an international audience with a series of well-received solo albums and some unlikely, but acclaimed, collaborations. Although he came from a family of musicians, Diabaté (born August 10, 1965) taught himself to play the kora from an early age, as his father, who also played the instrument, was often away touring. He developed a style of playing that, while being strongly rooted in the Malian tradition, is also open to a wide range of other influences, such as jazz and flamenco. He has subsequently sought out other musicians from around the world who are willing to experiment with him, even performing a concert in Amsterdam with a classical harpist. His 1989 debut, Kaira, made history as the first-ever solo kora album to be released. Stark, haunting, and full of breathtaking improvisational flourishes, it made him a star in his homeland and an in-demand performer internationally. In the same year, Songhai, a highly acclaimed collaboration between Diabaté, the Spanish flamenco group Ketama, and British jazz-folk bassist Danny Thompson, also released their acclaimed debut. Over the next six years, Diabaté performed at festivals and concerts all over the globe, doing much to broaden the appeal of the music of Mali, in general, and the kora, in particular. In 1995, a second Songhai album was released, as well as Djelika, on which he led a group of musicians featuring Kélétigui Diabaté (a veteran master of the xylophone-like balafon and no relation to Toumani) and ngoni (a miniature guitar-like stringed instrument) player Basekou Kouyate. He concentrated on performing in Mali over the next few years, before releasing New Ancient Strings, his 1999 collaboration with fellow new-generation kora master Ballaké Sissoko. The album was a tribute to their fathers who, nearly 30 years earlier, had released an album of kora duets called Ancient Strings. In the same year, the very highly acclaimed Kulanjan was released. This featured Diabaté, Sissoko, and other fellow Malians, including singer Kassé-Mady Diabaté in a "West Africa meets the blues" collaboration with U.S. guitarist Taj Mahal. To promote the album, these musicians toured internationally at the end of 1999. In 2000, Diabaté performed and recorded with Blur frontman Damon Albarn, when the latter visited Mali as part of an OXFAM project. Boulevard de I'Independence appeared from Nonesuch Records in 2006.
Toumani Diabaté (born August 10, 1965) is a Malian kora player. In addition to performing the traditional music of Mali, he has also been involved in cross-cultural collaborations with flamenco, blues, jazz, and other international styles.
Diabaté comes from a long family tradition of kora players including his father Sidiki Diabaté, who recorded the first ever kora album in 1970. His family's oral tradition tells of 71 generations of musicians preceding him in a patrilineal line. His cousin Sona Jobarteh is the first female kora player to come from a Griot family. His younger brother Mamadou Sidiki Diabaté is also a prominent kora player.
In 1987, Diabate made his first appearance on an album in the UK, on Ba Togoma, an album featuring his father's ensemble. In 1988 Diabaté released his first album in the West, a solo album entitled Kaira, recorded in one afternoon in London and produced by Lucy Duran.
In addition to performing Malian traditional music, Diabaté has also performed and recorded in cross-cultural settings. He has collaborated with flamenco group Ketama, forming a combined group known as Songhai and releasing two recordings: Songhai I and Songhai II. In 1999, Diabaté collaborated with American blues musician Taj Mahal on the release Kulanjan. "MALIcool" is a collaboration with American jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd. He also collaborated with the Icelandic popular musician Björk on her 2007 album Volta.
In 1999 Diabaté released the album New Ancient Strings, a collaboration with Ballake Sissoko and in September 2005, he released In the Heart of the Moon, for which he collaborated with Ali Farka Touré. The album went on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album. On July 25, 2006 he released his latest album Boulevard de l'Indépendance, recorded with his Symmetric Orchestra. In the Heart of the Moon and Boulevard de l'Indépendance, are both part of the Hotel Mandé Sessions, recorded by Nick Gold and released on World Circuit Records. Both Boulevard and Hotel Mandé are references to landmarks in Mali's capital city, Bamako.
The Symmetric Orchestra led by Toumani Diabaté is composed of musicians (mostly griots) from the across the old Mande Empire of west Africa, who play a mix of traditional instruments including the kora, djembe, balafon and bolombatto, as well as modern ones like the guitar and electronic keyboard.
Diabaté appeared in 2006 at the WOMAD Festival UK, Roskilde Festival in Denmark, and at the Sziget Festival in Budapest, Hungary. In 2007 he performed at the Glastonbury Festival and toured the U.S.A.. In 2008, he was at WOMADelaide (in Adelaide, South Australia). In early 2008, Diabaté released his new album of solo Kora music, The Mande Variations, to widespread critical acclaim. Many reviewers praised the album for its detailed recording of the Kora and careful mastering, in addition to the improvisational skills and wide range of apparent influences displayed on the album.
In October 2008 the Arabic language lyrics in Diabaté's song Tapha Niang (from Boulevard de l'Indépendance) were removed from the PlayStation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet, after it elicited objections from a Muslim individual due to their inclusion of verses from the Qur’an. The publisher Sony Computer Entertainment Europe decided to delay the launch of the game by a week and recall most discs in order to replace the song with a lyric-free instrumental version. However, some copies of the original game had already been sold in the Middle East and United States.
Diabaté was chosen by Matt Groening to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties festival in May 2010 in Minehead. Diabaté also performed at Hay Festival in June. In July he performed at the Larmer Tree Festival to huge acclaim.