Toumani Diabate likes to collaborate. He has worked with a large band, Taj Mahal, Bjork, Herbie Hancock, and he made two acclaimed albums with the late Malian guitarist, Ali Farka Toure. On Toumani & Sidiki, he is joined by his son. The Diabates are griots, which is a class of storytellers, musicians, and keepers of oral tradition in Mali. According to their oral history, they can trace their family back through 70 generations of musicians. Traditionally, the Diabates play the kora, which is an ancient stringed instrument similar to a harp. The kora is played far more rhythmically than the harp typically is, however, and Toumani and his son are masters on the instrument. They are otherwise unaccompanied on the album. It’s just the two of them – Toumani in one speaker, Sidiki in the other.
The father and son fill up the space with their koras. Their playing ranges from slow and meditative to fast and joyous. They routinely trade off dizzying melodic runs. They each play with virtuosic skill but this is still music you can hum. The kora makes a beautiful sound, particularly when played by two men destined to play it from birth. Most of the music is upbeat and in a major key. You know when the sun comes through your blinds and appears dappled around the room? That is what Toumani & Sidiki sounds like. It is the perfect accompaniment to the two weeks of spring weather sandwiched between the cold and the humidity here in Virginia Beach.
If you like Toumani & Sidiki, you should listen to Ali and Toumani, the second of Diabate's stunning collaborations with Ali Farka Toure, available from the Virginia Beach Public Library.