Mamadou Diabate,
Tunga
(Alula, 2000)

The music I like to listen to at different times varies quite a bit, from mellow Celtic melodies to harsh-pounding, boot-stomping industrial. Tunga, a CD released by Mamadou Diabate on Alula Records, has a tranquil sound that enhances the pleasure I get out of watching the day come to life on a lazy weekend morning.

Mamadou hails from Mali, a landlocked country that is almost twice the size of Texas and located just to the southwest of Algeria. Mamadou's instrument of choice since childhood has been the kora. To quote the liner notes, a kora is "...a West African harp-lute with 21 strings, popular in Gambia, Senegal and Mali. It has a skin stretched across a large gourd, a wooden neck, and gut (or nylon) strings stretched across a tall bridge. It is played in a similar way to a harp." To my ears, the kora sounds a lot like a dulcimer. (I also like listening to dulcimer instrumentals on quiet weekend mornings, but I digress....)

Tunga presents nine tunes, most of which are instrumental. Mamadou knew when he was a child that he was his going to live his life playing the kora. He wrote the first song, "Dagna," to express this "sense of destiny," as he calls it. "Dagna" is a very catchy tune with a hook. It is fairly fast paced and one of the better pieces on the CD. My favorite melody, however, is the title track. "Tunga" means adventure, and the tune is appropriately titled. It certainly invokes the spirit of adventure.

Two songs on the CD feature the vocals of Abdoulaye Diabate. Abdoulaye has a pretty decent voice and nicely complements the playing style of Mamadou. Still, I'm glad the majority of the CD is instrumental. "Dounuya" has a somewhat slow tempo and is based on a Gambian Manding classic called "Massane Cisse." On the 1920s song "Mamadou Diawara," Abdoulaye modifies the lyrics to pertain to a contemporary businessman. I tried to come up with a few words to describe this piece and all I came up with was "plinky" (which is not even a word). In this particular case, I like the vocals more than the instrument playing.

Three other African instruments are heard on the CD. Famoro Diabate plays the balafon, a West African xylophone. Fode Seydou Bangoura plays the djembe, a large drum which originated on the West African coast. Fuseini Kouyate plays the ngoni, a 4- or 5-stringed lute from Mali. Mamadou is further backed up on various pieces by Ira Coleman on acoustic bass and Cheick Barry on electric bass.

Mamadou Diabate now lives in New York and continues to showcase the cultural heritage of his home country in a manner I find worthy of recommending. Tunga is an excellent debut CD. If you enjoy listening to the dulcimer or harp, I think that you might find this to be a refreshing addition to your collection.

[ by Wil Owen ]
Rambles: 8 July 2001



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