Bentley's Bandstand: Mamadou Diabate, Courage

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BY BILL BENTLEY

Mamadou Diabate, Courage, World Village Records.

African music comes in all shapes and sizes, and it’s easy to get lost in the different sounds. That is a good thing because musical discovery is all about those journeys into unknown territory. As Westerners, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by so many offshoots, but really all it takes is opening the soul to receive what is being offered so graciously. The beauty of many of the African artists is how their music is based on touching the spirit. Even at its most popular, these are people who strive to enter our hearts and take us to a sacred place. And no one does this better than Mamadou Diabate.

The Diabate name is golden in Mali music. Father Djelimory, professionally known as N’fa, is one of the founders of the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali, while cousin Toumani has enjoyed worldwide success spreading the beauty of the kora instrument to corners near and far. Now, on Courage, Mamadou Diabate continues that pursuit with joyous effect. This time, though, he has moved his music closer to a modern feel, surrounding his 21-string harp in a setting that mixes instruments like the ngoni, balaphone and calabash with the acoustic bass. The combinations create a unique mix of old and new, and show how African music has always been both a solace and a surprise.

As the world continues to change, sometimes expanding and others contracting, one constant is the power of music to link us together. It is one of the things that can be counted on. Certain heroes lead the way, showing us their abilities to present a culture in sound. It is sonic diplomacy in its purest form, and like the title of this winning album says, takes courage at a time when it is most necessary. Mamadou Diabate began recording in 2000, and has won numerous awards in those 11 years. The highest, of course, is how listeners have come to count on him for inspiration. In that one, his passion reigns supreme.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.