Mamadou Diabate


"A huge, colorful mosaic, in which all the bricks have the freedom to change their position, color and shape" – this is how Mamadou Diabaté sees the world. The balafon player from Burkina Faso lives out this belief with his entire heart and soul: deeply rooted in the centuries old Griot culture of West Africa, he revives them with new flashes of inspiration from Pop, Jazz and Funk.  His new work “Masaba Kan” makes the mosaic of Burkina Faso shimmer in a new and exciting splendor.

When it comes to world music, Mali has, for many years now, been a step ahead on the black continent.  Yet, its neighboring country, Burkina Faso, has an equally rich music scene, and forms with the entire region a common cultural space.  Mighty empires, going back to the 11th century, developed an advanced civilization that surpassed that of the European Middle Ages.  As keepers of history in music and word, the Griot had at that time a very central position, and this profession is still of great importance in the post-colonial West Africa.  One of the most important Griot-families is that of the clan of Diabaté.

Mamadou Diabaté, an offspring of the famous clan, began training at the age of eight with the great masters of the balafon.  He quickly developed into an outstanding expert on the African xylophone.  Since the 80’s and the following decades, he has continually won first place at national balafon competitions in his homeland.  Yet, Diabaté didn’t just stick to the pure doctrine.  On his 9 CDs to date, the man from Burkina Faso, either solo or with his band Percussion Mania, has revealed how the virtuoso opens a contemporary language. The spectrum extends from Afro-Cuban notes to Jazz to Austrian sounds, with which he pays homage to his adopted hometown of Vienna.

On “Masaba Kan” the charismatic musician shows his world of sound in 13 thrilling pieces full of improvisational finesse, powerful melodies and rhythmic complexity.  He is accompanied by his 7-man band, with the deep-toned ngoni lute, flute, djembe, talking drums, bass drum dundun and electric bass.  Again and again the light voice of singer Kandy Guira stands out against the thickly woven grooves.  She is the second star of the group next to the daring virtuoso intermezzi from Mamadou. Propulsive dance pieces such as “Tonton Tanti” trade off with bluesy charged anthems such as “Fenba” and go to majestic balafon traditions in “Son Min te Ne La” then moving to melancholic pop sounds of “Sanji” or the fusion of rock structures in “Danga”.  

Diabaté is however, perpetually an ambassador to his first home and does not conceal their problems.  He sings of the quick profit of the cotton industry, the false hopes of relatives back home towards “rich” emigrants and he says a prayer against the drought.  A burning issue to Diabaté is Education in Burkina Faso, that he has made the theme of two songs (“Fenba” and “Jigiya”).  He is founder of a public school which enables 450 children in Burkina Faso to have free education.  

On his guest list are two illustrious “brothers” from the neighboring Mali.  On the one hand he was able to get his namesake Toumani Diabaté, the most famous bridge harp player of West Africa, and among others his duet partner Ali Farka Touré.  Additionally he managed Cheick Tidiane Seck, who also is on the credits of the likes of Youssou N’Dour. Hank Jones and Dee Dee Bridgewater prevailed as helping hands at the sound mixing table with keyboards and arrangements.

“Masaba Kan” is a showcase for modern Africa that has yet to cut its umbilical cord to tradition.  With his new album, Mamadou Diabaté is standing in the 21st Century, yet firmly building onto the foundation of the ancient Griots.


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