Toumani Diabaté & Sidiki Diabaté

From an exceptional family of 17 generations of kora players and griots, Toumani Diabate has been revolutionizing Malian music.

He was the first to give an international dimension to kora, and wanted to give to his son this practical training and support that he missed when he was younger. Then he realized Sidiki’s potential and decided to play with him, giving us a chance to discover not one but two amazing musicians.

Indeed, if his father is more than recognized around the world for his music, Sidiki Diabate brings something completely new to this traditional music. Through meeting a lot of musicians, including rappers who have influenced him, he also became a well known hip-hop star in Mali. Building upon his father’s music, influenced by Indian culture or Spanish flamenco and his own contacts as a young musician, he brings kora to a new era, the one of technological music.

The duo they make together is a fusion between those two generations and those two different ways to make music. Their songs express weighty concerns with exhilarating energy and joyful optimism.

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Toumani & Sidiki

These days, father-son collaborations in music are a rare thing indeed. Off the top of my head, we’ve had Nas and his old man Olu Dara Bridging the Gapbetween hip-hop and blues; and there was the initial Mystery Jets line-up that somehow managed to avoid any embarrassing dad awkwardness; but not much else.

Now we have Mali’s Toumani Diabate, back with another intriguing collaboration – this time alongside his eldest son Sidiki, on a series of duets on kora (a West African harp-like instrument). Whilst much of Toumani’s back catalogue has had a forward-thinking slant, exploring the fusion of traditional Malian music with other genres, from blues to flamenco to free jazz, Toumani & Sidiki feels like an freshly unearthed artefact, steeped in the influence of centuries.

Indeed, undisputed king of the kora Toumani’s passing of the baton onto his son means that Sidiki is the latest in a line of Griots that can be traced back in the family over seventy generations. Add in the fact that Sidiki is already a superstar hip-hop producer in Mali (check the synthy madness of “Gon Foly” on YouTube for a striking contrast with these songs), and you’ve got the ingredients for a documentary that would make world music and world cinema fans alike go weak at the knees.

In terms of recording, Toumani & Sidiki is about as stripped down as it gets: two musicians, two instruments, no vocals and no overdubs - the duo rehearsed very little or, for some songs, not at all. The only idiosyncratic production choice was to pan Toumani to the left speaker and Sidiki to the right, allowing the listener to identify the player of each part. A nice idea, however in practice, even with headphones, this arrangement becomes somewhat redundant, as the emphasis is on the merging of these two instruments into one and the uncanny intuition of the musicians to complement and support each other’s movements.