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The Mandé Variations

The Mandé Variations cover art

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News & Reviews

  • "Toumani & Sidiki," First Collaboration Between Father-and-Son Kora Masters, Due May 19 from World Circuit

    Toumani Diabaté, widely recognized as the greatest living kora player, and his eldest son Sidiki, release the recording Toumani & Sidiki on World Circuit on May 19. The Guardian has called it "the finest Toumani collaboration since his classic work with Ali Farka Touré." The album, produced by World Circuit’s Nick Gold with engineer Jerry Boys, is a set of unaccompanied kora duets, featuring both obscure, almost forgotten kora pieces and a new look at some Mandé classics from Mali. With this album, Toumani aims "to show the positive side of Mali," to reassert the legacy of a country with access to untold musical riches. 

  • Watch: Fatoumata Diawara Gathers Malian Artists As Voices United for Mali to Record Song for Peace

    In response to the current situation in Mali, Fatoumata Diawara has gathered together over 40 of Mali’s most renowned musicians in a studio in Bamako to record a song and video calling for peace titled "Mali-ko" (Peace / La Paix). Known collectively as Voices United for Mali, the group includes Amadou & Mariam, Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Afel Bocoum, Bassekou Kouyate, Vieux Farka Toure, and others. Watch the video and read the lyrics and their translation here.

About this Album

Toumani Diabaté is becoming recognized as one of Africa’s most gifted musicians. Now the Malian kora master releases his first solo album in 20 years. Featuring visionary interpretations of classic themes alongside ground-breaking improvised pieces, The Mandé Variations is probably the most ambitious and challenging African instrumental album yet released. It is at once the definitive statement on where the kora is today and simply one of the most beautiful and melodically accessible albums you will hear this year. An important album for Africa, an important album for the world.

Born in the Malian capital Bamako in 1965, Toumani Diabaté is the great virtuoso of the kora—the 21-string West African harp—and guardian of a classical tradition going back 700 years. Known equally for his peerless rendering of traditional material and for genre-bending collaborations (with Björk and Damon Albarn to name but a few), Diabaté is in the words of BBC Radio 3’s Lucy Duran, "on a par with Glenn Gould or Rostropovich—the sort of musician you only encounter once or twice in a lifetime."

Now in the wake of the Grammy-winning In the Heart of the Moon with Ali Farka Touré and the hard-swinging Boulevard de l’Indépendance with the Symmetric Orchestra, Toumani releases what is probably his most personal album to date. Recorded unaccompanied and entirely without overdubs, ‘The Mandé Variations’ is an African classical album that rocks and swings, that has learnt from Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix, yet remains entirely true to the kora player’s Mandé griot tradition.

If Diabaté’s first solo album, 1987’s Kaira, set the gold standard for modern kora playing, The Mandé Variations moves the story a giant leap forward. While Kaira charmed with its youthful melodic sparkle, the new recording is a moodier, more reflective and altogether more mature work. Meditative, at moments even somber, The Mandé Variations is infused too with a sense of wonder and rapture, expressed through Diabate’s blend of peerless lyricism and mercurial virtuosity.

While his recent work with the Symmetric Orchestra arranged the various kora parts for the different band members, here he fulfils every function himself, holding bass, rhythm, melody and improvisation in balance with apparently effortless ease. And if he appears never to break sweat, he knows too when to hold back, when to barely sketch in the rudiments of rhythm and melody as on "Cantelowes," a wonderfully moody, impressionistic exploration of the traditional love song "Diaraby."

The opening track, "Si naani," develops a traditional song of the Peul people, over ten spell-binding minutes, picking out the melodic line with all the delicacy and precision of Julian Bream playing Dowland, while holding to a dark and bluesily insistent counter-groove. "Ismael Drame" moves between the ancient Soninke tune "Miniyamba" and the kora standard "Alla la k’e," balancing its exquisite melody with a gentle, subliminally rocking cross-rhythm. The pulsing torrents of "Kaounding Cissoko" revisit "Alla la k’e," transposing the cascading rhythms of Senegalese sabar drumming into a shimmering wall of sound, so dense it’s difficult to believe that only one person can be playing.

Two of the album’s other tracks take the kora into completely new territory, departing from the melodic patterns that have so far underpinned all kora music. "Ali Farka Touré" is a free improvisation inspired by Toumani’s great friend and collaborator, while "El Nabiyouna" is an on-the-spot extemporization beginning in a traditional Mauritanian mode, which touches on Indian and flamenco themes before returning to a Malian rhythm.

Superbly recorded so that we can hear every touch of the strings, every throb and creak of the instrument’s wood and sinew, The Mandé Variations takes us not only to the deep places of the Mandé soul, but almost physically into the kora itself. This is the ultimate statement on one of the world’s great instruments—until the next Toumani Diabaté album.


Toumani Diabaté, kora
A World Circuit Production
Produced by Nick Gold
Recorded & mixed by Jerry Boys
Assistant recording engineer Graham Dominy
Recorded at Livingston Studios, London
Post production by Lucy Durán & Tom Leader
Mastered by Tom Leader & Jerry Boys
Production Supervision by Sara Daoud

All compositions by Toumani Diabaté or traditional & arranged by Toumani Diabaté 

Artwork by Julian House at Intro
Cover Photograph by Ed Alcock


This album is available from Nonesuch in the United States and Canada only.

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