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AAA Music | 25 September 2020

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Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté – Live @ The Barbican

| On 02, Jun 2014

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Friday 30th May, London

A family reunion – a one-off event that happens once in a lifetime, and has the appropriate proportions. The unique concert organised at the Barbican to celebrate the Diabaté family and the 50 years of Nonesuch Records is also a music landmark.

It is one of the rare occasions, occurring in the history of music, when two kora play together on the same stage and, in addition, the gig represents a familiar handover: an old-timer and internationally celebrated music “patriarch” who finally recognises his promising heir’s talent and blesses his solo career.

Toumani & Sidiki Diabaté collaboration goes inevitably beyond the borders of music. It is grounded in a strong and forward-thinking sentimental bond, which is vividly mirrored in the way the West African instrument is played on stage. The duo can be considered an instrumental embodiment of the well-established vocal singing families – on this occasion, instead of the melodic vocal cords, there are the 21 strings of the kora.

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Father and son are perfectly in accord. You can hardly tell them apart when one is playing, nor what is actually playing. The glorious, imaginative and peaceful sounds they create come out as an inseparable whole. Poetic music scales, engaging call-and-response, dreamy arpeggios, amusing jokes and social committed messages reflect the familiar harmony which reigns over the Diabatés. Harmony which is also instilled by their inspired musicianship – a century old, familiar trademark.

What has been experienced by the copious, well-behaved and captivated Barbican audience is the 72th music succession of the Diabaté family (one of the most influential griot family of Mali) but arguably the first one which has occurred on a stage. More than the recent album produced by the musicians, this Barbican gig is the clearest proof of the perpetuation of the familiar mission. Toumani illustrating, enhancing, and patronising the qualities of his son, warmly symbolises how much confidence he has in his artistic heir. And the show is the most glaring proof that Sidiki is the right choice.

The 23-year-old musician already seems a seasoned virtuoso; he’s not ‘simply’ able to stand his father’s ground, but also to develop a rejuvenation of a three century-old instrument. When Toumani ironically defines his son as ‘a pop-star’, he’s not entirely goofing off. Sidiki, next to the reverential respect for the Malian tradition, displays all his influences and listenings, among whom it is possible to find world-renowned artists like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. But, in addition, his sensitivity and awareness helps the young Diabaté (who has the same name as his grandfather, another Malian kora legend) to follow the family steps. To honour his music lineage.

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Sidiki, like his father and forefathers, is also able to speak the language of dreams. With the invaluable kora’s expressivity, he can set dreams to music. A bright and moving example is the encore that the duo donate to the Barbican. ‘Lampedusa’, a song included on their latest work Toumani & Sidiki, musically recounts a dream which turns itself into a nightmare: the story of 360 African migrants who desperately tried to reach the craved Europe continent on a rattletrap. During the crossing of the Strait of Sicily, the boat sunk drowning all the immigrants.

Toumani and Sidiki describe the tragedy with touch and deep concern. Their kora instruments are, more than ever, an embodiment of their souls. They reflect their feelings, giving life to a poignant soundscape; also the best way to say goodbye to their audience, bathed in emotional tears.

Review + Photos: Marco Canepari