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Toumani Diabaté & the London Symphony Orchestra debut new track “Mamadou Kanda Keita”

Toumani Diabaté & the London Symphony Orchestra debut new track “Mamadou Kanda Keita”


“A symphony orchestra and the West African kora (lute) might seem like odd bedfellows, but magic happens when Toumani Diabaté teams up with the London Symphony.”—NPR Classical

March 10, 2021—Toumani Diabaté and the London Symphony Orchestra are premiering “Mamadou Kanda Keita,” the second offering from their collaborative album Kôrôlén, out April 23 on World Circuit Records. Stream/share the track HERE.

The track, which features a vocal performance from the eminent Malian griot Kasse Mady Diabaté, is an interpretation of “Mamadou Boutiquier,” an ancient composition well known in another form from In the Heart of the Moon, Toumani’s Grammy-winning album with Ali Farka Touré. Toumani comments, “This is another In the Heart of the Moon, but in a classical way…it is now even more sophisticated, with orchestra, to show to the audiences: ‘look at this music in a new way, look at African music in a new way.’”

Commissioned as a special project by the Barbican Centre in London and produced by World CircuitKôrôlén features Toumani and his group of eminent Malian musicians (including Kasse Mady Diabaté and Lassana Diabaté), accompanied by the soaring presence of the LSO in dedicated arrangements by Nico Muhly and Ian Gardiner and conducted by Clark Rundell. The title bestowed by Toumani on this unique and groundbreaking release—Kôrôlén—translates from the Mandinka language as “ancestral,” a fitting theme for an album that brings together ancient griot melodies and Western orchestral arrangements, resulting in an achingly beautiful and fresh neo-classical sound that will appeal to admirers of African, traditional and new classical, and ambient music.Stream/share the album’s first single, “Haïnamady Town,” HERE

African music has famously produced some of the world’s most danceable grooves, but as Toumani Diabaté has shown better than anyone, there is another gentler and more meditative current to its creative flow. “There’s a mystic and classical side to African music, a divinity,” says the world’s most celebrated kora player. “It is not only about dance, and people need to know this.” It’s one of the reasons why Toumani embraced the invitation to work with the London Symphony Orchestra and conductor Clark Rundell.

The result is a remarkable collaboration between West African griot/jeli tradition and European conservatory-trained classicism that thrilled those who were privileged to be in attendance when the project was staged at the Barbican in 2008. Now for the first time the recording of that unforgettable night is being made available to a wider audience as Kôrôlén.

It’s a record that touches many bases, from ancestral African to western classical via ambient and the contemporary neoclassical stylings of composers such as Max Richter and Nico Muhly. As Toumani puts it, the aim was to say to audiences, “Look at this music in a new way, look at African music in a different way.” 

Never before had a kora been deployed as a solo instrument in a symphony orchestra and so the collaboration required careful preparation to find the common ground where the improvisational and interpretative strengths of Malian ancestral music could meet with the more structured demands of an orchestral score. After Toumani and Clark had laid the groundwork, Ian Gardiner and Nico Muhly were brought in as arrangers to create a score with which the LSO could work. 

“Our music is older than Bach,” Toumani enjoys pointing out; but at the same time it is music that exists in the moment and which comes to life in the imagination of the musicians playing it. And so the music altered again in rehearsal under Clark Rundell’s baton, as the orchestra began to explore the infinite possibilities of working with Toumani and his musicians, tentatively at first but with an increasing vitality and confidence.

In addition to the Barbican concert presented on Kôrôlén, there were two further symphonic performances in Liverpool and Oslo, each with a different orchestra and with subtle variations in how the pieces were played, although the core of the material remained the same. With this record Toumani Diabaté urges us to “look at African music in a new way.” Yet Kôrôlén does something more than that. It shows how different cultures can come together to find a spirit of shared humanity that transcends the artificial barriers that divide us. And right now that has never been more needed.

Mamadou Kanda Keita,” the new single from Malian kora virtuoso Toumani Diabaté and the London Symphony Orchestra‘s upcoming album, Kôrôlén, is debuting today. Listen/share the track here: http://worldcircuit.lnk.to/KorolenMamadou

Kôrôlén, out April 23 via World Circuit Records, features arrangements by Nico Muhly and Ian Gardiner and is conducted by Clark Rundell. The performance originated from a 2008 commission by London’s Barbican Centre.

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