Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko – The Sunjata Epic

Over this weekend the Southbank Centre in London held Africa Utopia – three days of music, literature, art, fashion and discussion from the African continent and the diaspora. The festival, in its third year, took over most of the riverside Centre with ticketed concerts, fashion shows, pop-up food outlets, hairdressing, market stalls, seminars and speeches all rounded off with a collaborative musical finale performance orchestrated by drum legend Tony Allen. Is this African utopia Malian musicians featured prominently – notably with father and son duo Sidiki and Toumani Diabaté, but also with Malian-born French hip-hop artist Oxmo who impressed. Baaba Maal of Senegal (though he continually alluded to a pan-African view in mini-speeches throughout) was active and energetic as ever. Damon Albarn characteristically showed no such humility and roamed on his own-accord from instrument to instrument all evening.

Pleasingly, Toumani and Sidiki blew the audience away. The kora proved its versatility and agility its is ability to rouse the crowd on its own, in duet, or with the rest of the jazz/afro-beat ensemble playing along too. This week’s Song of the Week brings things full-circle and celebrate’s the work of Sidiki Diabaté the elder – Toumani’s father. The song refers to Sunjata Keita founder of the Malian Empire in 1235 and it really is epic; rolling in at 30 minutes and 34 seconds. We have written previously about Toumani Diabaté’s appreciation of Malian history and especially his desire to overturn some widely held prejudices about the sophistication of African music, poetry and literature. This weekend he showed his best to an audience that needed little persuasion in taking up his message.

It appears his father “the King of Kora” had the same respect and came up with the idea of bringing this message to the banks of the River Thames.  This week’s song comes from a live performance at the Southbank Centre in 1987 – 28 years before his son and grandson did the same.



Sidiki Diabaté & Djelimady Sissoko – The Sunjata Epic

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