My Family (Boubacar Diebate [no number], 2004)
It’s got to be tough enough to be a Senegalese kora player and singer based in Boulder, Colorado. And Boubacar Diebate isn’t even taking the easy road by playing it safe. His 2002 release Kambeng was a swinging bag of gritty Afro-pop, jazzy jams and successful stabs at outlying genres like reggae. I
would have readily welcomed more of the same, but Diebate had other plans.
You won’t have to squint to spot the words “Mandinka Traditional Music from Senegal” beneath the title of this CD, nor will it take much listening time to realize that Diebate is every bit as accomplished in a traditional setting as a contemporary one. I’m not sure how literally the title is meant to be taken- one other Diebate is credited and the surnames Drame and Sako appear twice.
There is an unmistakable familial, handed-down feel to the music, though. Dual koras, ngoni lute and balafon create dryly ethereal ripples of sound, Boubacar’s lead vocals are equal parts balladeer and muezzin and the melodies have the right mix of hypnotic repetition and unhinged lilt.
Not a lot of sugar coating as far as production goes, and none needed. The music is naturally sweet. The final track, a kora/banjo duet with Bela Fleck, suffers just a bit from one-upmanship but largely manages to keep a cool head. A very good disc, showcasing Diebate’s expertise in bringing the kora back to its roots.