When one thinks of contemporary African pop, the kora isn't the first instrument that comes to mind. A string instrument with a harp-like sound, the it has been a part of traditional African tribal music for centuries -- and for the most part, traditional settings are where you can expect to find it. Nonetheless, the kora hasn't been excluded from African pop, and it is used for both traditional and more modern sounds on this rewarding CD by Malian kora virtuoso Mamadou Diabate. Coming from a family of Manding griots, Diabate is well schooled in traditional tribal music but is also open to more modern elements. Much of Tunga is quite traditional -- "Djanjo," for example, is a piece that goes back to the 13th century -- but "Dounuya" has strong blues leanings, and it is among the tracks that employs an electric bassist, Cheick Barry. The other bass player heard on this album is Ira Coleman, an acoustic jazz bassist who has played with such greats as Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, and the late Betty Carter, and joins Diabate on five of Tunga's nine tracks. Whether he is incorporating Western elements or favoring a traditional approach, Diabate brings a lot of charisma to this engaging, mostly instrumental album.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson