Toumani Diabaté Symmeric Orchestra

Boulevard De L’independence | World Circuit/Nonesuch
By BANNING EYRE  |  August 21, 2006
3.0 3.0 Stars
Toumani Diabaté is widely considered the greatest living exponent of the kora, a West African 21-string harp. Departing from solo, duo, and trio works, as well as recent collaborations with flamenco and blues artists, he assembles a massive, pan–West African ensemble here and reinvents classic songs with lavish detail and grand production, including a string section and brass led and arranged by Pee Wee Ellis. The set kicks off with a popping praise song to Diabaté himself sung by Soumaila Kanouté (one of six powerful lead singers on the album) and cranked up with enough brass, strings, voices and percussion to recall the most elaborate Salif Keita concoctions of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The centerpiece is “Ya Fama,” a swirling, brooding, balafon-and-kora-driven number graced by Kasse Mady Diabaté’s stunning vocal, streams of electric-guitar riffing by Fanta Mady Kouyaté, and yet another knockout kora solo from Diabaté. There are wonderful slow songs, like “Wasso,” with its fabulously fluid electric-guitar work, but nothing one would call spare. Instead, Diabaté’s high-concept production proves he’s not only the hottest but also the most ambitious and visionary kora player on the scene today.
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  Topics: CD Reviews , Salif Keita, Toumani Diabate, Pee Wee Ellis
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