It may seem something of a paradox that Mamadou, descended from an illustrious family of Malian griots (a caste whose primary role is to transmit their cultural history through song) prefers to let the instruments do the talking on his new album. No trace of a lyric anywhere on the twelve tracks on Heritage! The kora virtuoso and ardent defender of orally transmitted traditions has chosen to communicate through the written word instead, stuffing the album's accompanying booklet with valuable in-depth explanations about the featured tracks.
Despite being lesser known in Europe than many of his compatriots, Mamadou can pride himself on being one of the rare kora-players to have enjoyed a successful career in the United States, where he has lived for over a decade now. Following his debut album Tunga, Mamadou made his mark with Behmanka, a second album that earned him a nomination at the 2005 Grammy Awards for “best traditional world music album.” Interestingly enough, it was another Diabate - Mamadou's cousin, Toumani, who recorded a joint album with the late great Ali Farka Touré - who ended up walking off with the same award the following year. Mamadou cites Toumani, ten years his elder, as “a great source of inspiration to me.”
Born in 1975, Mamadou grew up between Bamako and his hometown of Kita, learning to master the 21 strings of the kora thanks to his musician father, a member of the Malian Instrumental Ensemble. But it was living in the States that he came to develop his own unique vision of Mande music, opening himself up to other influences. “It was jazz that developed my technique and my sense of improvisation (…)," Mamadou claims, "I'd never have had the same kind of experiences back in Mali. I think I've really become a better musician through living in the States."
The spirit of jazz certainly hovers over Heritage, an album featuring eight tracks from the traditional Mande repertoire that have been totally rearranged. These include Gansana and Joukouya, pieces that Mamadou used to play with his father back in his musical apprenticeship days. The album, recorded in just five days, is not just a finely-honed example of what a kora virtuoso - capable of delivering a breathtaking solo like Foulouya can do - but a superb collaborative effort from a quartet whose complicity shines through some impressively fluid and irresistible playing.
Mamadou Diabate Heritage (World Village/Harmonia Mundi) 2007