Sounds from the Sahel: Mali Song of the Week

Toumani Diabaté – Elyne Road 

Its been a while since we had a song from a Hub favourite, Toumani Diabate. Last time, we were at the height of summer. Now we are in the depths of a British winter: dark, wet, and cold. Toumani’s soothing, expert kora playing should carry you far away from the howling gales and misery that lie beyond your windows.

However, this week’s song of the week was recorded a little closer to home than you might expect. This excellent review of the album The Mandé Variations by Robin Denselow explains all:

“A noisy wedding got underway at the Hotel Mandé during Diabaté’s first attempt to record The Mandé Variations. So he and his producer, Nick Gold, moved the session to north London, to a little studio in Wood Green, where they recorded the album in just two hours. It’s a gentle, experimental record, taking in both ancient themes – as on the track Djourou Kara Nany, which, Diabaté says, “makes use of a song about Mandé history, from Sunjata’s time” – and new praise songs, always a crucial part of a griot’s repertoire. Two of these are named after London streets that are home to those who have helped his career. One such track, Elyne Road (in honour of [Nick] Gold and his family) includes echoes of an old UB40 song, “because I remember the melody from when I first came to London”.

Diabaté’s aim with the album is to make western audiences rethink their idea of African music. “Most people think that Africa doesn’t have classical music,” he says. “They think of Africa as having just dance and percussion – talking drums and calabash – but we have lots of music that’s not percussion. People don’t know that the kora is a great classical instrument.””

Step by step, song by song, week by week, we hope we are letting more people know about the delights, sophistication and history of Malian music.



Toumani Diabaté – Elyne Road

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