Words by Nigel Williamson
When the great kora (harp-lute) player Kaouding Cissoko died in 2003, he was replaced in Baaba Maal’s band by Diabel, a scion of the same Senegalese family. I’m not entirely sure how closely they were related; the Cissokho (or Cissoko) clan claims a lineage of 100 generations of griots. The figure may be a slight exaggeration, but they’ve certainly got a substantial family tree; no fewer than a dozen Cissokhos accompany Diabel on his debut solo album. Its title translates more or less as ‘don’t run from your ethnicity,’ which sums up the attitude of this classic Mande groove (although Diabel also sings in Bambana, Wolof and Peul).
Diabel plays not only kora but electric guitar, bass, ngoni and percussion. His musical versatility is reflected in the material. On the title-track he uses a strumming technique that makes the kora sound like a zither, quite different from the Toumani Diabaté classical school. Yet the solo kora piece ‘Koto Kawding’ would not have sounded out of place on Diabaté’s Mandé Variations. By contrast, ‘Senegal-Mali’ is a funk-fuelled roadhouse boogie, and ‘Karambaya’ is a moody Bambara blues. As Justin Adams’ liner notes suggest, this is a record with groove, melody and soul in equal measure.
Listen to a choice track from Kanabory Siyama on the Top of the World CD included with the current issue (#84 June 2012).