Mamadou Diabate – Courage

Mamadou Diabate – Courage

For Malian musician Mamadou Diabate, music has always represented an uplifting practice; something that could be celebrated, and something that one could rejoice in. Often times, we allow bad moments to affect us far greater than we should; as Diabate notes, “Even if you have bad experiences, you can’t let that destroy your soul.” With a message that transcends even the mundane, every-day activities we take for granted, Diabate’s fifth album, Courage, is a true testament to what a strong heart is very capable of.

As someone who has nearly mastered the craft of playing the Kora, the 21-stringed, harp-like West African instrument, Diabate relishes in the free spectrum that music allows him to be a part of. The talented virtuoso weaves intricately-designed melodies around a scattered support system that features various musicians playing guitars, ngoni, acoustic bass, balaphone, calabash and djembe. A pure part of the African spirit, Diabate’s music possesses a tranquil feel that is always reflective and circular. On “Dafina” Diabate uses a marimba pedal tone pattern to support his kora’s melody and, as it improvises around the key, the sounds emitted from the instrument are vivid and vibrant. Songs come and go like moving lines off a clock and everything has a cyclical feel, in where melodies and harmonies are repeated in a clockwork manner.

This feel, enticing and absorbing, captures the essence of Courage in the most elevated of manners. Rather than over-stuffing the arrangements with unnecessary patterns and rhythms, Diabate allows the percussion and other string instruments to trade off the melody and to, in turn, offer a counter melody/solo, to provide range. On “Bogna” (which directly translates to ‘respect’), Diabate begins with a stunning melody that is completely alone before later adding a small layer that is supplemented only by an acoustic bass and some other guitar work; while on “Humanity” he features a dancing, scale-like melody played by a marimba which is then more accurately defined by Diabate’s kora. The instruments sound as if they are communicating to each other and they genuinely sound in unison and aware of what the other is doing.  Diabate’s skill is regularly compared to some of the greatest kora players and, as humble as he is, there is no denying his striking ability on Courage.

While the roots might be elsewhere, I can’t help but think of the Baroque-style harpsichord when hearing Diabate’s music. Much like that mostly antique instrument, Diabate’s Kora is capable of taking a song to a new level with such accomplished brilliance. Whether it’s a small closing on a song’s ending melody, or even the tiniest of modifications on an extended improvisation, Courage delves into the spirit of the person making the music and, for Diabate, it’s as bright as the shining sun.

World Village