Kora maestro Toumani Diabaté has a lot of legend to live up to. Although synonymous with the instrument ever since his sparkling international solo debut, Kaira (1988), The Mandé Variations is only his second solo disc. While Kaira introduced a new level of technical sophistication, it stuck to folkloric repertoire inherited from Mali's ancient Mandé empire, founded way back in 1235. This new album continues to develop kora technique and covers some of the same territory, but also ventures beyond the Mandé heartland for inspiration – with mixed results. Read More - BBC
Songlines magazine, April/May 2008
Toumani Diabaté is today for the kora (harp-lute) what Ravi Shankar was for the sitar 40 years ago - not just the outstanding virtuoso of his generation but a musician with the visionary genius to exert a profound influence far beyond world music. Just as Shankar influenced George Harrison and others, Toumani has already made an impact on the music of Björk, Damon Albarn and those at the more adventurous end of the rock spectrum.
If the album title was chosen to echo Bach's Goldberg Variations, it's a good analogy, for there's a courtly grace and elegance to these eight long, solo instrumental pieces. The effect is meditative - this is music for the head. And yet there is rhythm, too, of an astonishingly subtle complexity, although you'd have trouble dancing to it. Some have found the music's intricate, dignified counterpoint too austere to maintain concentration. Repeated listening pays dividends however - there's a voluptuousness in Toumani's endlessly varying contours of interdependent melody, harmony and rhythm that is quite engrossing. How a solo instrument recorded without overdubs can sound so lush and layered is remarkable - once again, Shankar comes to mind. Nor has the general seriousness of purpose dimmed Toumani's sense of fun - I am indebted to fellow music critic John Mulvey for pointing out that the opening phrases of `Cantelowes' are a playful quotation from The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, a little riff Toumani picked up from Bassekou Kouyaté while recording his Djelika album back in 1995. This is a heroic record in every sense.
Track List of Toumani Diabate - The Mande Variations
1. Si Naani
2. Elyne Road
3. Ali Farka Toure
4. Kaunding Cissoko
5. Ismael Drame
6. Djourou Kara Nany
7. El Nabiyouna
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