Following last night's Toumani Diabaté concert at the Musical Instrument Museum, it's easy to see why so many name-power musicians have collaborated with the Malian kora player. (Those names, by the way, include Björk, Taj Mahal, and Herbie Hancock.)
The first and only kora player to win a Grammy Award (which he did in 2006, thanks to his efforts on the late Ali Farka Touré's In the Heart of the Moon), Diabaté showcased his highly-sought-after versatility during the four-song, hour-and-a-half set. Though this solo gig would be classified as "world music" ten out of ten times, it wouldn't have been a stretch to feature Diabaté's performance in a blues/jazz club, outdoor folk festival, or a classical music concert hall.
This is due to Diabaté's versatility on the kora, a West African instrument that's only played with the index fingers and thumbs of each hand, and is constructed from a cut-in-half calabash, cow skin, and stretched fishing wire for the 21 strings.
But not many folks in this universe could play the kora like Diabaté did last night as he glided through mindful compositions heavy in mellow meditative, subconscious-delving qualities. Thanks to bulletproof timing, pensive bass lines, head-over-heels-in-love melodies, and complex improvisations rooted in poly-rhythmic patterns, Diabaté unequivocally displayed why so many musicians from around the globe are seeking his Grammy-winning contributions.