Usually, Western audiences hear the 21-string African kora within a group context. But the masterful Mamadou Diabate can pull off a solo performance with no overdubs, as he does on this welcome addition to the expanding world music catalog. Given the orchestral nature of the instrument, Diabate can extract endless cascading or speedy chorus after chorus. His fluency in the language of his music, ability to tell musical stories as any griot should, and impressive command of the kora make him a distinctly unique musician. He's also one who has been sought out by American jazz musicians for his ability to stride away from strictly traditional music and freely improvise in modern and contemporary jazz contexts. Fond of the 6/8 time signature, Diabate emphasizes it on the first three tracks: the self-assured "Touma," the occasionally cascading "Jamanadeira" (with its triplets and 16th-note figures), and the alternately patient and anxious title track. "Djimbaseh" is also in 6/8 but adds extra beats for a complex but joyous dual presence. The village dance numbers are the celebratory 4/4 "Kora Boloba" and the witty, minimalist, but darker "Kita Baro." Diabate's masterful dexterity and effortless fluidity on the kora are no less than stunning, as he can change gears at will and play as impressively as any electric guitar hero. While Diabate is not a staunch developer of themes, his style is refined, spirited, unrushed, and proud. For those who prefer a simpler romantic approach, Diabate offers "Diarabi Kele," and jumps into a reggae beat with spontaneous flurries of notes during "Sanfene Foli." This highly recommended recording is a high watermark for the African sounds American audiences are still discovering.
AllMusic Review by Michael G. Nastos