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African Legends

Toure Kunda

By Tom Orr
Published November 21, 2006

The Casamance region of Senegal is the area from which the brothers that comprise Toure Kunda hail. Ismael, Sixu and Amadou Toure took a keen interest in melding traditional Senegalese rhythms with farther-reaching elements like reggae and jazz.

After years of following different musical paths, the three brothers were together in Paris as of 1981 and soon recorded their first album, Em’ma. The title track of that disc remains a classic in African reggae and perhaps Toure Kunda’s best-known song, though they also proved to be skilled at creating percussion-driven songs steeped in tradition, griot-inspired pieces that blended balladry and bounce and infectious Afropop.

Tragically, Amadou Toure died of an exhaustion-induced heart attack at the age of 36 in 1983. Younger brother Ousmane replaced him and Toure Kunda carried on. On subsequent albums they combined their tight harmonies and equally locked-in African drumming with sprightly tempos, the ongoing influence of reggae and freewheeling jazz/funk excursions, as on the Bill Laswell-produced Natalia that featured Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell. Easily moving from such danceable songs as “Soye” and “Salya” to gentler fare like the elegiac “Amadou-Tilo,” Toure Kunda achieved international acclaim which handily coincided with the growing interest in African music that was in full swing as the 1980s progressed.

These days Ismael and Sixu continue making music under the Toure Kunda name, sticking to their familiar mix of Senegalese grooves and melodic ideas from the rest of Africa and beyond, including a recent tendency toward salsa and other Latin rhythms. And a new generation of Toures is picking up the torch as well. Nephew Daby Toure’s 2004 release Diam is a nicely pensive piece of African music that straddles the old and the new.

Recommended Recordings

Dance Of The Leaves (Restless)
Live Paris-Ziguinchor (Charly)
The Toure Kunda Collection (Putumayo)