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Niafunke Man

Ali with Toumani Diabate
Photo: Christina Jaspars
Ali with Toumani Diabate
A similar sense of patriotism seems to fuel Toumani Diabate’s musical activities, as I discover when talking to him about Ali. Toumani explains he feels his culture is being trivialised by the West. “Electric koras are being created in the West and sold for thousands. That’s just absurd. But what is worse is that there is still not a museum of music in Bamako.” But isn’t that the responsibility of the Malian government I enquire? “Not at all. The West has created a lot of wars in Africa, why can’t the Occidental world invest in a museum for a change…”

Ali’s latest release, In The Heart Of The Moon (see fR265), is Ali’s first new album in five years and when we get onto the subject of the album, I spot an immediate change of mood. From a meagre “You know… the participation of Ry Cooder won’t change my culture,” I am now getting, “Toumani is a child who was born in my hands. I worked a lot with Toumani’s father, whom I knew very well. I have known Toumani as a child, when he was training under Batourou Sekou. But God doesn’t care about all of this… because Toumani has surpassed both of them. He even went beyond what other people did in Mali. Toumani is a young artist, but he holds the history of one of the oldest cultures of Africa, which is the Manding culture and Griot music.”

Ali’s relationship with Toumani goes back to his relationship with Toumani’s father, Sidiki Diabaté: Toumani’s father was one of the first musicians to head up Mandinka political and cultural legacies, occulted for years by Mali’s colonisers. Although Ali and Toumani don’t belong to the same culture, and actually had to embrace each other’s repertoires, their mission is one and the same: to breathe new life into the artistic legacy of Mali’s golden days of the 50s and 60s, and to preserve it for future generations.

The album was recorded in a studio at the Hotel Mandé in Bamako and is part of a trilogy of albums recorded there. Ali’s next release is going to be one on which he plays the ngoni (traditional Malian guitar) as part of an ngoni band of four from Niafunke. Nick Gold: “Ever since I’ve been working with Ali, I asked him whether I could record him on the ngoni, but he never really got his act together up until three years ago, when all of a sudden out of the blue, he sent me these demos from his days at Radio Mali on which he played ngoni. This is something he had never done, send me demos.”

Ali's last published interview. From fRoots 273, March 2006


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