TOUMANI DIABATE WITH THE ROYAL SCOTTISH NATIONAL ORCHESTRA AND TRIO DA KALI
ROYAL CONCERT HALL, GLASGOW
Review by Mark Brown
Legendary Malian musician Toumani Diabate is to the kora (the West African harp) what the late Ravi Shankar was to the sitar; that is to say, the instrument’s greatest player of modern times. Little wonder, then, that this concert turned out to be an early highlight of Glasgow’s superb, annual music festival, Celtic Connections.
A show of three parts began with a set by the excellent West African group Trio Da Kali. The trio brings together the balafon (the centuries old West African xylophone), a traditional bass guitar and the human voice.
That voice belongs to Hawa Kasse Mady Diabate (no relation), a singer of such power and range that one almost wished that her microphone would fail in order that we could hear her sing, as it were, “in the raw”.
The trio provided an excellent introduction to the concert’s main attraction, namely Diabate and his band (including his son Sidiki on second kora) playing music from the Malian master’s album Mande Variations alongside the Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO).
The RSNO musicians wore a splash of red, so as, one assumes, not to appear too drab beside the African players in their splendid, colourful attire. There was nothing drab about the orchestral arrangements with which they accompanied Diabate’s gorgeous kora playing, however.
The orchestra provided Diabate’s playing with, by turns, a subtle echo and an almost symphonic intensification. Whatever the Mande Variations lost in intimacy they gained in richness.
A nod to Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for the Spaghetti Western The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, in which Diabate plucked the memorable opening bars on his kora, was as unexpected as it was humorous. The decision to add to Sidiki’s kora an occasional synthesised twang was a kitschy disappointment.
The final section of the show, in which Diabate returned with his own band, included the sobering composition Lampedusa. An achingly beautiful piece for two koras, it remembers the 350 African souls who perished in their attempt to reach the titular Italian island in October 2013.
This poignant tune did not come before the band had the audience on its feet with a rousing jam. A series of brilliant solos were woven through the compositions that emerged from Diabate’s famous collaboration with the late father of modern Malian music Ali Farka Touré.
The Celtic Connections festival continues until January 31. For further information visit: celticconnections.com
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on January 18, 2016
© Mark Brown