ONE might presume the kora – the ancient West African harp-lute – and a classical orchestra to be musically, not to say culturally, incompatible.
Toumani Diabaté with Royal Scottish National Orchestra | Glasgow Royal Concert Hall | Rating ****
Yet kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté’s Mandé Variations, which he and fellow-Malian instrumentalists performed with the RSNO on Sunday, resulted in a frequently exquisite confluence of contrasting yet complementary tones and textures.
Diabaté, his son Sidiki on second kora and other Malians including balafon (marimba) virtuoso Lassana Diabaté, sounded perfectly at ease amid the orchestra, with bright eruptions of kora and woody ringing of balafon set against often luscious orchestral strings, or in conversation with woodwind.
One movement took on a typically Malian, languid yet hypnotic rhythm; another saw a nursery-rhyme-like round develop into a mighty processional, with balafon and its western descendant, the xylophone, exchanging riffs, while another member of Toumani’s extensive musical clan, vocalist Kasse Mady Diabaté, sang eloquently – although, as throughout the evening, a regrettable lack of printed programme or onstage explanation left us none the wiser as to song content.
The same applied to a brief but impressive set by Trio Da Kali, comprising Lassana with Mamadou Kouyate on bass ngoni (the West African lute) and singer Hawa Kassé Mady, whose imperious solo singing opened the evening.
An unprogrammed third section to the evening saw Toumani and company reforming as his eight-strong Symmetric Orchestra for some hypnotic Mandinka grooves which turned into an extended jam, with kora and ngoni sparring in an amiable bickering of staccato strings, while father and son performed their kora duet Lampedusa, a ringing expression of regret that nevertheless flows on inexorably.