Produced by Jason Richmond & Mamadou Diabatè
Engineered, Mixed, and Mastered by Jason Richmond
Mamadou Diabate’s sixth album affirms that he is one of the finest kora players living in the world today. With his 2009 Grammy Award in Best Traditional World Music for his last solo album, Douga Mansa, he returns with a new solo album Griot Classique. It is dedicated to his father, Djelimory N’fa Diabate, and to Nelson Mandela. Featuring new composition, innovating on the traditional melodies, these new pieces highlight his versatility as a composer. While playing his one kora, Mamadou’s simultaneous combination of accompaniment and solo playing produces sounds of two koras playing at once, highlighting his adept skill as a kora virtuoso.
Mamadou was destined to play the kora. He was born in 1975 in Kita, a Malian city long known as a center for the arts and culture of the Manding people of West Africa. As the name Diabate indicates, Mamadou comes from a family of griots, or jelis as they are known among the Manding. Jelis are more than just traditional musicians. They use music and sometimes oratory to preserve and sustain people's consciousness of the past: a past that stretches back to the 13th century when the Manding king Sunjata Keita consolidated the vast Empire of Mali, covering much of West Africa. The stories of these glory days and the times since remain important touchstones for people today, not only for the Manding, but for many citizens of Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Cote D’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, and Sierra Leone. So to be born to a distinguished jeli family in Kita is already an auspicious beginning.
Mamadou's father Djelimory played the kora, the jeli's venerable 21-string harp. He was widely known as N'fa Diabate, one of the founders of the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali and recorded on the National Radio of Mali. At the age of four, Mamadou went to live with his father in Bamako, where the Ensemble was based. When it came time for him to return to Kita and go to school, Mamadou knew that the kora was his destiny. His father had taught him how to play the instrument, and from there he listened and watched and devoted himself to practicing the kora, to the point that his mother worried that he was not concentrating enough on school. When she took it away, it only reduced his interest in studying, and he quickly resorted to making his own kora so he could continue.
Mamadou says that his father advised him to listen to all the best kora players and to learn from each one. The kora itself came from the Empire of Mali, which was located in the present-day region of Gabu, centered between Guinea Bissau, Gambia, and Senegal. The Malian kora tradition has always put a premium on holding onto the old ways while constantly innovating and developing the art in new ways.
In 2000, Mamadou recorded his debut Tunga (Alula), which means adventure, and this wide ranging, collaborative work served as the calling card of a most adventurous musician. In 2003, he recorded Behmanka (World Village). Here, in the tradition of his cousin, Toumani, Mamadou challenged himself to make a solo recording, one that would demonstrate his profound knowledge of tradition, his mastery of his instrument, and his personal innovation as a player. It is a tour de force, and it earned him a Grammy Award nomination in 2005. In 2006 Mamadou released another ensemble album, Heritage (World Village). In the following year, American Folk Alliance awarded him World Music Artist of the Year, 2007. Mamadou released his second solo album in 2008, Douga Mansa (World Village). This earned him the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music. Courage (World Village), recorded in Bamako, Mali, was released in 2011.
Special thanks to Jason Richmond for his vision and determination for this project, and to the Rotimi Foundation for financial support.
Thanks to Will “Kairaba” Ridenour and Teli Shabu for their assistance with the recording, my wife Dafina Blacksher Diabate, and all the wonderful people who have been supporting me since I continued my musical career here in the U.S.A.
The album is dedicated to my father, Djelimory N’fa Diabate, and to Nelson Mandela; they were from the same generation and passed away two weeks apart in December 2013.
Recorded May 14-16 in Durham, North Carolina 2013 at Sound Pure Studios, United States
Mastering Assistant - Teddy Mak
Cover Art and Photography - Chris Charles
01_Nelson Mandela “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (also known as Madiba, his Xhosa clan name in South Africa). As a griot from Mali, West Africa, it is my great honor to compose a song for Nelson Mandela. He taught all of us about forgiveness and great personal sacrifice.
02_Ahlah Barison The Mande people have an expression: We prefer the shade of trees more than the shade of humans. Anything you receive from humans in this life doesn't stay with you. When you receive a gift from God, that is the perfect gift and it stays with you.
03_Bi Kaira Bi Kaira means Kaira of the present day, not the old style. Kaira means peace and happiness. Batourou Sekou and my father were the first kora players to play Kaira on the kora in Kita (my hometown). Kita was the birthplace of the Malian kora style. I innovated this grand classic of Mande griots to my own style.
04_Sambou De Mande Sambou was a singer who sang about life and gave us advice. He was from the Mande region, between Mali and Guinea. I created a variation on this spoken song, creating a new melody and accompaniment.
05_Nahcouma Nahcouma is a grand classic of Mali. It is a song of greeting that we play for the nobility and dignitaries of the society. I play this in an innovative variation.
06_Amadou Ly Amadou Ly was a great lover of kora music. He was the director of the Kora Festival of Mali, where he brought me to play in 2011. He brought together all the kora players from the West African region to play at the festival in Bamako. He passed away in 2013 in a car accident in Bamako. It is my honor to play this song for him. All the kora players will miss him.
07_Keep It Simple This composition is the way I like to keep the kora playing: simple.
08_Abainima Mousoya Bainima A celebration of women presenting themselves as grand dames, showing off their beauty. This is a contemporary style, not a traditional song.
09_Alounaya In this contemporary style, Alounaya celebrates the person or the group who brings happiness, lifts the mood, and spreads good vibes.
10_Mamayah I learned this song from my father. It is a grand classic of griots and originated from Kankan, in Guinea. Mamayah means, "let's make things easy for each other." Even when dancing to this song, the energy should not be too forceful. Mamayah has also become a big celebration for the city of Kankan, where all the griots and nobility come together to celebrate every year.
11_Master Kora Only In the kora society, in order to be respected by the elders, you have to master this style of kora. It is the first and is still the best. This version is a result of many years of infusing my own style within this grand classic of the kora.
I hope you enjoy these selections. It is my great honor to share the legacy of the kora with the people who love the kora around the world.