Mamadou Diabate, Heritage (World Village, 2006)

Although he currently resides in North Carolina, Mamadou Diabate was born in Mali and raised on the musical traditions of his homeland. He is a master of an indigenous African stringed instrument called the kora. While it is much larger than a guitar and is played while holding it outward from the body, the kora has a comparable sound to a classical guitar. Diabate's third album Heritage is an entirely instrumental recording, mixing traditional pieces with Diabate's own compositions. Alongside the kora, Diabate is accompanied by guitar, bass, a relative of the xylophone called the balafon, and some light percussion.

The predominance of the kora over the guitar makes Heritage a bit more purely traditional than albums I've recently reviewed here from other Malian artists like Habib Koité and Vieux Farka Touré, but the overall feel is very similar. Diabate's band builds the tunes around steady, mellow but insistent grooves, providing Diabate with the right rhythms to showcase his playing skills. Indeed, the album's major selling point is Diabate's instrumental prowess, which is superb throughout. He plays the kora with the speed of a flamenco guitarist, and makes some intricate, complex melodies sound effortless.

The catch with recordings from virtuoso instrumentalists, whether in rock or folk music, is that they frequently don't do justice to what the performers can do live. I haven't seen Mamadou Diabate in concert, but he strikes me as being that kind of performer. That being said, Heritage would do very nicely as an introduction to Malian traditional music for novices, and should certainly appeal to long-time fans of African music as well.

Overall grade: B+

reviewed by Scott

Diabate performing "Foulaya" last month.

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