Toumani Diabaté

The world's most versatile and celebrated kora player.

– The Guardian

Toumani Diabaté has brought the traditional music of his native Mali to the attention of an international audience with a series of well-received solo albums and some unlikely, but acclaimed, collaborations.

Although he came from a family of musicians,Diabaté (born August 10, 1965) taught himself to play the kora from an early age, as his father, who also played the instrument, was often away touring. He developed a style of playing that, while being strongly rooted in the Malian tradition, is also open to a wide range of other influences, such as jazz and flamenco.

He has subsequently sought out other musicians from around the world who are willing to experiment with him, even performing a concert in Amsterdam with a classical harpist. His 1989 debut, Kaira, made history as the first-ever solo kora album to be released. Stark, haunting, and full of breathtaking improvisational flourishes, it made him a star in his homeland and an in-demand performer internationally. In the same year, Songhai, a highly acclaimed collaboration between Diabaté, the Spanish flamenco group Ketama, and British jazz-folk bassist Danny Thompson, also released their acclaimed debut.

He concentrated on performing in Mali over the next few years, before releasing New Ancient Strings, his 1999 collaboration with fellow new-generation kora masterBallaké Sissoko. The album was a tribute to their fathers who, nearly 30 years earlier, had released an album of kora duets called Ancient Strings. In the same year, the very highly acclaimed Kulanjan was released. This featured Diabaté, Sissoko, and other fellow Malians, including singer Kassé-Mady Diabaté in a "West Africa meets the blues" collaboration with U.S. guitarist Taj Mahal.