Music review: Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté

AN INHERITANCE of countless bardic generations, a virtuosity which dazzles without resort to showiness and a near-telepathic rapport between father and son make a performance by Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté a hugely rewarding and at times hypnotic experience.

Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté are on tour together for the first time. Picture: Contributed
Toumani and Sidiki Diabaté are on tour together for the first time. Picture: Contributed

Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté - Usher Hall, Edinburgh


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Toumani, often credited as the world’s greatest exponent of the kora, the West African harp-lute, is touring for the first time with his son Sidiki, who apart from inheriting his family’s dynastic griot culture of music and praise poetry, is a hip-hop star who can fill stadia back home in Mali. Here, however, it was simply two men and their cumbersome-looking gourd-based harps, establishing languid but intensifying rhythms, punctuated by glittering flurries of staccato notes, querulous pizzicatos, full-toned belling and snatches of song-like melody.

The two players threw phrases to and from each other, generating joyously tintinnabulous musical conversations. The younger player’s only concession to his other life in contemporary music was his deft use of foot pedals to loop and layer the ongoing riff, building it up into a mesmerising groove until the pair sounded like an entire, pulsating kora ensemble.

By way of encore, amid ecstatic applause, they changed the mood entirely with Lampedusa, a poignantly chiming elegy they had composed for the more than 300 African migrants drowned off that Italian island last October. It was a striking demonstration that a centuries old tradition – Toumani claims a lineage of 72 generations – can movingly address all too contemporary ills.

Seen on 29.05.14