Kassé Mady Diabaté, ‘Kiriké’ (Six Degrees)
This splendid, sparkling album featuring one of Mali’s great griots, whose family name will be familiar to anyone with even a casual interest in West African music, finds Kassé Mady Diabaté in the studio with an all-star cast: Ballaké Sissoko, kora (harp); Makan Tounkara, ngoni (lute); Lansiné Kouyaté, balafon (marimba); and — unusually — French cellist Vincent Segal.
The result is an orchestral kaleidoscope that spins far beyond the trance-like drone of so much music from this part of the world, where a peculiar 13th century mix of Arab scales and African spirituality was later transformed by the crucible of slavery into the American blues.
Diabaté spills out great cascades of Bambara poetry about hunters and heroes, peacemakers and villains in a full-throated wail that explodes in quick tangles with strong accents, then sometimes lowers to an intimate whisper.
Kouyaté’s virtuosic balafon and Tounkara’s fleet ngoni converse with a swing in their step on “Ko Kuma Magni,” which warns against idle gossip. The lyrical “Sadjo,” about a hippopotamus whose loyalty is proposed as a model for human behavior, trades in western-style arpeggios. Segal takes a turn with his bow on “Toumaro,” a praise song for a friend in Abidjan, and Sissoko’s twinkling kora lights up “Hera,” a call for peace.
The elaborate album package features mythically droll line drawings by Dialiba Konate and a full account of the lyrics and their cultural roots in the medieval Manding Empire.
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