Recorded in early 2019 at the Centre for Sound Communities at the University of Cape Breton in Canada, this recording features the resonant sounds of the quintessential Mande instrument of West Africa- the 22-keyed wooden xylophone the bala. Also known to Westerners as the balafon, it has been played for hundreds of years by the traditional musicians of the Mande – the jelis, or griots. And one of the foremost current masters of the instrument is Fody Lassana Diabate. He is well known to fans of Malian music for his performances and recordings over the past 25 years with kora wizard Toumani Diabate- as a member of his group Kulanjan with Taj Mahal, his all-star West African ensemble The Symmetric Orchestra, and Mali-Cuban collaboration AfroCubism. In recent years Lassana has stepped forward as the leader of Trio Da Kali that has recorded with the Kronos Quartet. In all of these groups he has supported notable griot singers, including Kasse Mady Diabate and his daughter Hawa Diabate.
This is his first album of purely instrumental music- featuring only the bala in solo recordings, aside from four songs in which he is supported by Canadian musician Illya Kirekosz on second bala providing an understated backing. The songs are a combination of traditional Mande chestnuts such as “Kaira” and “Kanou” along with many new original compositions written by Lassana Diabate- in several cases inspired by Cape Breton and tributes to friends and family members.
Lassana Diabate shows himself a true virtuoso on the bala, with an astounding dexterity and sensitivity in his performance. He is able to transcend the traditional tuning of the bala by utilizing a second bala tuned a semitone apart, so that it has a full tonal range.
The Centre for Sound Communities has done a real service in providing this extraordinary African musician the platform to demonstrate the real beauty of their instrument and musical skills. Lassana Diabate shows this with the “bala” recording, and comes out from behind the curtain of his many excellent ensembles to prove his unique musical powers.
KBCS Radio, “Music of Africa”