Writing for the album’s press kit, Béla Fleck calls Badian Diabaté “a revelation.” Not to be outdone, Bill Frisell places Diabaté next to Jimi Hendrix, Wes Montgomery, and Andrés Segovia as one of the great innovators of our time. That’s saying a lot, and sure enough, there’s plenty of awesome to go around on Mande Guitar, the first album released on Banning Eyre’s Lion Songs Records.
To start, there are the ways Diabaté is pushing past his mentor, the late Bouba Sacko, applying all the technical advances that come with six strings, a fretboard, and a soundhole: a broader range of dynamics, an increased sensitivity to touch, an expanded tonal palette, and a greater control of intonation. More importantly, he’s reaching beyond technique to reimagine the thousand-year-old Mande repertoire, shifting rhythms, building countermelodies, improvising flourishes, and incorporating elements from outside the griot tradition.
How? Well, Diabaté opens the four-minute “Korosa” with a trilled, three-note, single-string run, quickly adds a second string, moves toward an increasingly complex call-and-response, changes tempo for a lulling, pastoral pattern passage, breaks rhythm with a syncopated countermelody, and develops a third melody that evolves into a full-bodied descant before breaking up again, spinning into any number of new directions. That’s just the first minute, and just one track out of 11, each one distinctly different. It’s a stunning collection, and even though the playing is unquestionably Malian, filled with a lush, impossible beauty, there are echoes of Portugal, Spain, and Brooklyn, where the album was recorded. An absolute gem.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.