REVIEW: “Griot Classique” a classical music migration

Jul. 10, 2014 @ 10:27 AM

Mamadou Diabate, “Griot Classique” (self-released)

Malian native and Durham resident Mamadou Diabate took home a Grammy Award in 2009 for the Best Traditional World Music Album. The best way to approach this kora virtuoso’s new recording, “Griot Classique” is to think of it as the classical music of his West African home. (John Coltrane is reputed to have said, when asked about his interest in classical music, whose classical music?)
The music Diabate plays on this recording has the qualities of classical music -- interesting melodies, expressiveness, great technical virtuosity and respect for tradition. He dedicated this recording to Nelson Mandela and to his father, Djelimory N’fa Diabate, who was a master of the kora and a founder of the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali. (Both men died in December 2013.) In his liner note discussions of the compositions, Diabate always pays tribute to the great kora players and traditional kora music. His notes also are helpful to listeners, because Diabate distinguishes between traditional songs, and songs in contemporary kora style.
He plays solo on this recording, and for anyone who has not seen Diabate in concert, visit YouTube to appreciate the physical feat of playing solo passages and accompaniment on the kora. This music is more than just great technique – it is melodic, very singable, and at other times danceable. The opening composition “Nelson Mandela” has a pretty melody and meditative feel. “Bi Kaira” opens with a cadenza-like introduction, then settles into a rhythmic groove, played in the lower pitched strings, while the melody is played with the higher-pitched strings. “Mamayah” is one of the tunes his father taught him. “Master Only Kora,” the recording’s longest composition, is his tribute to the traditional style of kora that Diabate states one must learn to get the respect of the elders, fused with his style. With its rhythmic (at times drone-like) pulse and Diabate’s mastery of the fast melody passages, this is the record’s tour de force.
“Griot Classique” was recorded at Sound Pure Studios in Durham, making it a blessed sample of musical migration.

--Cliff Bellamy, The Herald-Sun