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Diabate Dazzles with World Rhythms

With throbbing melodies and ethnic rhythms, kora player Mamadou Diabate and his ensemble livened up a quiet Thursday night and inspired the Berea College convocation audience to rise to its feet and shake the floorboards.

Mamadou Diabate plays the kora.

The ensemble presented songs that were deeply rooted in the Manding kora tradition, adding balafon, bass, percussion and guitar, and drawing from African and African American musical genres to create engaging and interesting music. Although traditional African rhythms were the primary component, several songs also used elements of an American blues style. Diabate and his ensemble blended the two cultures seamlessly. Diabate also introduced each song, giving the English translation of the title and describing what the song was about.

Excitement and energy built as the end of the performance neared. Some audience members, inspired by the music, got up and began dancing at the edge of the stage, while others stayed in their seats and tapped their feet to the rhythm. By the time the concert wound to a close, there were at least thirty people dancing by the stage, including many audience members who had come down from the balcony seats during the performance to join the energetic display.

During the last song, Baye Kouyaté, calabash and talking drum player for the ensemble, came to the edge of the stage and got listeners clapping along with the beats. Then he invited them to stand, and soon the entire audience was on its feet, swaying and clapping with the music. The energy in the room was palpable as all the students, faculty and community members present at the convocation found common musical ground. The clapping grew even louder after the song ended, as the audience cheered and yelled to show its appreciation for Diabate and his band.

Diabate, who is from the West African country of Mali, was taught how to play the 21-string kora by his father. He won first prize for kora playing in a regional competition when he was fifteen. He has played the kora ever since, and is renowned for his skill. He first came to the US in 1996 as part of a group of touring Manding musicians, and decided to stay in the country to continue touring and recording.

Diabate introduced the kora instrument to the convocation audience, and showcased his mastery of the instrument in a brief solo performance; he also described how he first began playing the instrument, and explained that musicianship was "passed down tradition to tradition" in his family.

The musicians with whom Diabate performed were part of his touring band: Guinean guitarist Djikoryam Mory Kante, balafonist Bala Kouyaté, Baye Kouyaté on calabash and talking drum, and on bass, American jazz musician Noah Jarrett. They also appear on Diabate's latest CD release, "Heritage."

Mamadou Diabate appeared as part of the Stephenson Memorial Concert Series. To learn more about him and his ensemble, or order music, visit the link below.

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