Toumani Diabate - The Mandé Variations
Toumani Diabate is one of those great Malian musicians that cannot be knocked. The album Kaira was his first: a beautifully melodic 40-minute kora solo, released in 1989. Since then he has been a collaborators dream, working with everyone from Ali Farka Toure to Damon Albarn. Then, he released Boulevard de L’Independence in 2005 with his Symmetric Orchestra – perhaps the most exhilarating, individual album to ever emerge from Africa this decade. Every track was as exciting as the last – traditional Malian instruments were twisted and flecked with jazz, salsa and blues. Phew, it was that good. It still is.
The Mandé Variations is his first solo album in almost 20 years, and it should supposedly be a progression from Kaira, but it isn’t. It sounds much the same, which, to be honest, isn’t such a bad thing. It is absolutely beautiful – the solo sound of his choice of instrument, the resonant, 21-stringed harp-like kora always is – and it’s extremely accessible.
Those craving his furious Afrobeat tendencies won’t find much consolation here and there are times you can’t help feeling a little wistful for the energy and flair of his Symmetric work at times. The Mandé Variations pares Diabate back to the bare essentials, though, and offers a purer, more introspective side to the incredible musician’s skills.