He is one of the most known and progressive kora musicians in Mali, hhe kora is a 21-string cross between a lute and a harp.
Toumani Diabate was born in Bamako, into a family or kora players. His father, the late Sidiki Diabate, was known as the “king of kora”. Toumani has further developed his father’s style, something of a national symbol in Mali after the album “Ancient Strings” from 1970. This was the first album in Mali to feature pure kora music. In 1987, at only 21 years of age, Toumani made his debut as a recording artist with the “Kaira” album, that is still a strong selling kora album in Mali.
Toumani Diabate descends from a long line of musicians, and took up the kora from a young age and taught himself how to play. He developed a style of playing that, while being strongly rooted in the Malian tradition, was also open to a wide range of other influences. He has subsequently sought out other musicians from around the world who are willing to experiment, even performing a concert in Amsterdam with a classical harpist. His 1989 debut “Kaira” made history, full of breathtaking improvisational flourishes, it made him a star in his homeland and a sought-after performer internationally. In the same year, “Songhai”, a highly acclaimed collaboration between Diabaté and musicians from Spain and Britain, also released an album.
Over the next six years Diabaté performed at festivals and concerts all over the globe, doing much to broaden the appeal of the music of Mali in general and the kora in particular. In 1995, he released “Djelika”, named after Diabaté’s daughter, on which he led a group of musicians featuring Keletigui Diabaté, a veteran master of the xylophone-like balafon, and the ngoni, a miniature guitar-like stringed instrument, player Basekou Kouyate.
The album features astonishing interplay between these three musicians, with support on some tracks from UK bass player Danny Thompson and Spanish-born flamenco jazz bass player Javier Colina, both of whom had previously played with Toumani in “Songhai”. “New Ancient Strings” featured Diabaté and fellow kora player Ballake Sissoko performing a series of magical duets. The same year’s “Kulanjan” was a wonderful collaboration with American roots music giant, Taj Mahal, featuring fellow musicians Sissoko, Baasekou Koyate (ngoni), Lassana Diabate (balafon), Dougouye Koulibaly (kamalengoni), Kasse Mady (vocals) and Ramatou Diakite (vocals). A relaxed and accomplished set, the album topped the Best Of The Year poll for many blues and African music writers and the global tour undertaken to promote it garnered similar praise.