April 24, 2021
(World Circuit)The massed ranks of the LSO threaten to overwhelm the tumbling delicacy of Diabaté’s kora in this live recording from 2008
Toumani Diabaté and the London Symphony Orchestra: Kôrôlén review – an unequal balance
Malian music has no greater emissary than the kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, who since 1988 has championed his homeland with exquisite albums of his own and a series of boundary-busting collaborations that range from flamenco group Ketama to banjo player Béla Fleck, by way of Damon Albarn, jazz trombonist Roswell Rudd and Brazilian composer Arnaldo Antunes. This turn with the London Symphony Orchestra comes from a Barbican performance in 2008, in which Diabaté and a clutch of Malian stars allied their music to rich orchestral arrangements – a reminder, as Diabaté noted, that “our music is older than Beethoven”.
It was a typically bold move, though at times classicism proves a cumbersome partner for his tumbling kora melodies. The settings wisely stay on the discreet side for pieces such as Mama Souraka and Elyne Road, content to add swirls of strings and nodding woodwind. Elsewhere, the LSO’s lead, conducted by Clark Rundell, proves erratic. There’s a jaunty orchestral coda for moon Kaira, but the xylophone-like balafon is dancing to a far jazzier tune, while the strings of kora, violin and cello compete rather than complement. The finale of Mamadou Kante Keita features stirring vocals from the late Kasse Mady Diabaté, which a faux-operatic climax duly swamps. A special evening, but one containing both chasms and confluences.
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