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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra

By Marty Lipp
Published March 30, 2007

Boulevard De L’independence
World Circuit

More than any other traditional African instrument, the kora has been at the center of some of most successful fusions of African traditional and western modern music. Kora master Toumani Diabaté has played both traditionalist and innovator, and he pulls it all together on this disc, working on a pleasingly large canvas. He mixes a multi-national African band with western-style horns (arranged by Pee Wee Ellis) and even a string section. Each song varies the textural mix, a fitting tribute to the street the album is named for, a main thoroughfare one takes from Bamako to head out to other countries. The assembled players build out the sounds of the kora, creating long-form songs that are alternately hypnotic and hard swinging. A highlight is “Salsa,” which starts off rocking, but evolves into a polyrhythmic jam built on a sly Afro-Cuban vamp. It’s all proof that Diabaté has mastered the slippery trick of making the old new.