The old year has barely turned over and already the stunning fifth recording, Courage by Malian kora master Mamadou Diabate, arrived on the scene. Following his Grammy Award winning Douga Mansa (2009), the new recording leans towards a fuller more contemporary sound. The kora pairs up with ngoni (Malian banjo), balaphone, calabash and djembe. The playing here is fiery one minute with rapid notes of the kora glimmering over the top of the other instruments, and ethereal on some tracks. Yet, even those ethereal moments find themselves locked in a West African groove.
A West African griot, Diabate walks the talk, and though the songs are instrumental, the musician punctuates his liner notes with morality lessons and tributes. On the track Bogna, Diabate offers these wise words about music in general, “Respect is the healing medicine of peace. Peace is the healing medicine of love. Love is the healing medicine of life. Life is the healing medicine of hope.” The musician believes in delivering positive messages in his music and just hearing this collaborative effort brings a smile to my face.
Diabate cites in the press notes something I feel like quoting because it speaks to my heart. “I believe that the problems you receive from the outside are not supposed to be part of your music or your soul. I believe that music is a good thing to heal people’s spirit. So you have to write good songs from that place…I don’t like songs that have bad meaning…” Perhaps it is this sentiment combined with the sheer beauty of Malian music that has turned my head in the direction of that West African nation--poor economically, but wealthy in musical expression. Any sensitive person can't help but to fall in love with Malian music.
In that regard, Courage sounds like an embarrassment of riches and fans of this type of music will feel like they’re basking in the lap of musical luxury. First we’re treated to masterful kora that is combined with virtuoso playing all around. The four musicians create music that resonates throughout the body with the shimmering notes of sounding off the kora, followed by the bubbly sound of the balaphone and locked down by acoustic bass, and percussion. The track Humanity ripples off the disc, then is greeted by the radiant track Macky where you can hear the slapping sound of the calabashes and bass framing the kora grooves.
But Kita Djely, dedicated to Diabate's birth town, stands out as my favorite on the album. It's hard to sit here and type this review with that song playing. It reminds me of a saying by Samite, "In Africa if you don't dance to the music, you insult the musicians."
I realize that the year has only begun, but already I’m wondering what other musical gems are in store. Will this be a year of musical masters uplifting us from the doldrums? When you hear music this beautiful played by humanity for humanity, you can’t help but garner hope for a better future.