Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate - Kulanjan

Posted By MiOd On Sunday, June 16, 2013 Under ,

Perennial blues road warrior Taj Mahal and Malian kora (harp-lute) ambassador Toumani Diabate join forces, blend textures, and intermingle idioms on this cleanly produced 12-song set, recorded in 1998 in Athens. Their common ground is best tilled on "Atlanta Kaira" and the title track, where the plucky filigrees and glittering tone of the kora sound right at home with Taj's darker, barking National Reso-Phonic steel. "Ol' Georgie Buck" and their canny cover of Muddy Waters's "Catfish Blues" are the album's blues banners, which find Diabate's kora delightfully incongruous, while the walking African ballad "Tunkaranke" leans most heavily toward the motherland. Fleshed out with fine vocals by Taj, Kasse Mady Diabate, and Malian chanteuse Ramata Diakate ("Queen Bee"), and other African instruments, the sound is defiantly acoustic, intimate, and surprisingly true.

Like the 1997 release Sacred Island, Kulanjan sees Taj Mahal blending the blues with ethnic folk music. While the earlier album explored the music of Hawaii, however, here Taj and the Malian kora player Toumani Diabate seek to reveal the connections between the blues and the music of Western Mali.

And these connections are apparent from the opening cut, a new version of Taj's "Queen Bee". Diabate's kora - plucked, according to the excellent sleeve notes, using a technique similar to the finger-thumb style of guitar playing Taj learned from earlier blues masters - drives this pretty, country blues while Ramatou Diakite's honeyed vocals on her improvised Wasulunke lyrics perfectly complement Taj's distinctive, gravelly voice. Other tracks that come from the blues, rather than the Malian, tradition are just as successful. Taj and Diabate's take on the traditional "Ol' Georgie Buck" sounds like the only way to play this song after just one listen. Curiously, this cut reminds me of Led Zeppelin's early '70s attempts to fuse their Willie Dixon-influenced electric blues with English folk ("Gallows Pole", "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" and "The Battle of Evermore"), which either shows one of the many wonderful, hidden connections between the musics of the world, or that I'm losing my mind. "Catfish Blues", meanwhile, is the album's purest blues in form, yet it is Diabate's retuned kora that lifts the song far above the hundreds like it.

The Malian cuts sound, perhaps only to this untrained ear, mostly like straight West-African folk music. Connections between the two traditions are still apparent here, however. "Fanta" takes the Malian tradition of the praise song and renders it as an infectious Cajun blues, sung in French by Taj and dedicated to Diabate's wife. And "Guede Man Na", although a million miles from the blues in form, has the heartfelt sadness of great blues music.

Ultimately, though, deciding which of the album's tracks can be termed as 'blues' and which are 'Malian' is a fairly pointless exercise. Taj and Diabate effortlessly fuse elements of both musics, and in Kulanjan they have produced a superb release that succeeds on its own terms.

Track Listing: 1. Queen Bee 2.Tunkaranke 3.Ol' Georgie Buck 4.Kulanjan 5.Fanta 6.Guede Man Na 7.Catfish Blues 8.K'an Ben 9.Take This Hammer 10. Atlanta Kaira 11. Mississippi-Mali Blues 12. SaharaPersonnelTaj Mahal - vocals, guitar, piano (5); Toumani Diabate - kora; Kassemady Diabate - vocals (2,4, 5,6,8,10, 12), guitar (8); Ramatou Diakite - vocals (1,6,, 9, 10, 12); Bassekou Kouyate - ngoni, bass ngoni; Dougouye Koulibaly - kamalengoni, bolon (6,12); Lasana Diabate - balafon; Ballake Sissoko - kora (3,6,7,9,10)

01. Queen Bee
02. Tunkaranke
03. Ol' Georgie Buck
04. Kulanjan
05. Fanta
06. Guede Man Na
07. Catfish Blues
08. K'an Ben
09. Take This Hammer
10. Atlanta Kaira
11. Mississippi-Mali Blues
12. Sahara

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