• Danny Wiser

MALI/FRANCE: Lamomali - Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté & -M-

Updated: Jan 20

This Malian-French album shows that traditional music can be incorporated into modern pop in a manner that breathes new life into the genre of World Music


I have started to come around to the notion that the term ‘World Music’ is, for the most-part, reductive and fails to give an adequate description for music that does not come from the Western hegemony that exists among all forms of cultural expression in the world today. Bandying together an array of genres and labelling it World Music can often seem somewhat unfair and meaningless. Listening to Lamomali, which is often described as World Music, was a profoundly enjoyable experience, but more than that, it made me question this idea that I was beginning to believe in the process of discovering music from around the world. This is because Lamomali has a truly ‘global quality to it, that so much music lazily labelled as World Music can often lack.

Perhaps this says more about the mastery of Toumani and his son than it does about the instrument, but to me it tells me that when implemented correctly, cross-cultural and cross-genre music production is not only possible but can reach some dizzying heights.

The album showcases musical stylings from across the planet, whilst at its core it contains a traditional West African rhythm that is constant and in some respects totally perfect to listen to. This special beat that is embedded throughout the entirety album is one that is commonplace within much West African music and has been for many decades. This is because Lamomali stars kora king Toumani Diabaté and his son Sidiki Diabaté, who both come from a long line of kora players in Mali (reportedly 70 generations of musicians precede Toumani in a patrilineal line). For most Westerners, the sound of the kora will be unfamiliar. Perhaps the best description is that the sound simultaneously resembles that of a harp, a bass guitar and a lute – three instruments that produce fairly distinctive sounds from one another.

On Around the World in 200 Albums we have on previous posts discussed the beauty and the potential of seemingly basic instruments such as the harmonica and the Peruvian cajón, however, what is astounding about such a complex device as the kora as how seamlessly it fits in to this genre-spanning album. Perhaps this says more about the mastery of Toumani and his son than it does about the instrument, but to me it tells me that when implemented correctly, cross-cultural and cross-genre music production is not only possible but can reach some dizzying heights. Whilst the kora is played beautifully throughout, it perhaps stands out the most in its solos that feature in the tracks Une Âme and Toi Moi.

Arguably the mastermind behind this beautiful tapestry of global music is French rocker, -M- (Matthieu Chedid). He blends the classical Malian folk sound with a modern touch to create music that is as fun as it is interesting. There are three dance tracks on this album that are of note. My least favourite song on the album is one of these, L'Âme au Mali which I personally did not really enjoy due to its EDM-like style. It reminded me of an Avicii track that didn’t really go anywhere infused with traditional West African sounds. That said, despite it not being up my street, it is still an interesting attempt to merge these genres. Nevertheless, -M- totally makes up for this with my favourite track Bal De Bamako, a song that has been stuck in my head for weeks since I first heard the album and has an irresistibly fun quality to it. The other dance track is perhaps where the album shows off its truly global nature. Solidarité feels like a piece of real World Music due to its influences than can be distinctly heard from all across the world. A simple search online shows that the track features, alongside –M- and the Diabatés, Brazillian samba superstar Seu Jorge, Greek rapper Nekfue, Senegalese Afrobeat virtuoso Youssou N’dour (who will soon himself be featuring on the blog), two Libyan stars including singer Hiba Tawaji as well as Trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf, in addition to several other artists from the US, India and China.

These two joyous dance tracks are arguably where the album shines brightest, however, reaching as high a quality as the rest of the music on the album does is no mean feat, particularly when its variety is taken into account. The opening track Manitoumani is both soft and sensual in its tone, this is somewhat different to the album’s closer Koman Le Herós. It merges the electric guitar with the kora and has an almost boisterous quality to it which gives the otherwise enchanting sound of the kora a rocky edge. Yet the typically entrancing sound of the kora should not be overlooked in other parts of the album such as in the song Le Bonheur which transmits a sense of holiness, perhaps aided by Philippe Jaroussky’s falsetto vocals, and in Cet Air, a track with uniquely a space-age feel. This is particularly astounding to think is merely being created by the beautiful application of the 21-string instrument. In fact, this track features Fatoumata Diawara, who you’ll perhaps recognise from her vocals in the club banger Ultimatum by Disclosure, features.

To me Lamomali shows that perhaps my cynicism regarding the term World Music was perhaps somewhat unfounded, and that instead that term can in some cases by used with both pride and accuracy. –M- and the Diabatés demonstrated that it is possible to blend Western music that would ordinarily have commercial success in countries such as France with a traditional, enchanting style from another part of the globe and still maintain success in the charts. Yet, it seems like this album didn’t just do well commercially, which in itself is rather unusual for a World Music album, but it did immensely well amongst music critics and deservingly swept up numerous Victoires de la Musique awards in 2018 (the French equivalent of the Brits or the Grammys). Furthermore, on a personal level Lamomali opened up an exciting portal of curiosity about the kora and the wonderful potentially offerings of other Malian music - we will keep you posted!