A master of the kora (21 string West African harp), Diabate has brought the traditional music of his native Mali to the attention of an international audience with a series of well received solo albums, and some unlikely, but acclaimed, collaborations.
Although he came from a family of musicians, Diabate (born August 10, 1965) taught himself to play the kora from an early age, as his father, who also played the instrument, was often away, touring. He developed a style of playing which, whilst being strongly rooted in the Malian tradition, is also open to a wide range of other influences, such as jazz and flamenco.
He has subsequently sought out other musicians from around the world who are willing to experiment with him, even performing a concert in Amsterdam with a classical harpist. His 1989 debut, Kaira, made history as the first ever solo kora album to be released. Stark, haunting, and full of breath-taking improvisational flourishes, it made him a star in his home land and an in demand performer internationally. In the same year Songhai, a highly acclaimed collaboration between Diabate, the Spanish flamenco group Ketama, and British jazz-folk bassist Danny Thompson, also released their acclaimed debut.
Over the next six years Diabate 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, a second Songhai album was released, as well as Djelika, on which he led a group of musicians featuring Keletigui Diabate, (a veteran master of the xylophone-like balafon and no relation to Toumani) and ngoni (a miniature guitar-like stringed instrument) player Basekou Kouyate.
He concentrated on performing in Mali over the next few years, before releasing New Ancient Strings, his 1999 collaboration with fellow new generation kora master Ballake Sissoko. The album was a tribute to their fathers who, nearly 30 years earlier, had released an album of kora duets called Ancient Strings. In the same year, the very highly acclaimed Kulanjan was released. This featured Diabate, Sissoko, and other fellow Malians, including singer Kasse Mady Diabate in a 'West Africa meets the blues' collaboration with US guitarist Taj Mahal. To promote the album, these musicians toured internationally at the end of 1999.
In 2000, Diabate performed and recorded with Blur frontman Damon Albarn, when the latter visited Mali as part of an OXFAM project. ~ Jamie Renton, All Music Guide