Classic Albums: Kaira by Toumani Diabaté

So it was 1988, the year Kaira by Toumani Diabaté was released but it was recorded in October 1987. So I should have done it last month but I guess it can be included at the start of this month. Just over thirty years now but it’s twenty-nine years this year in fact by the release date, if I can count right? I was never great at math. It’s only the second album from the 80’s so far in my Classic Albums posts. It’s a perfect record to be the next from that decade after Grace Jones’ and the brutal onslaught of Lou Reed’s which was the last one on my list.

It’s totally opposite to almost everything else recorded at the time and could really be recorded/released a 100 years ago. It’s the second instrument album so I’ve got to now come up with something to say about it without going on any lyrics. It’s a bit challenge to write about something without any sung words. I do love a lot of albums without singers so going to just have get a bit better at doing this.

Toumani and his Kora

He’s an African artist, the first but not going to be the last on my list here. Mostly this part of the world get’s left of lists like these but I’m going to make up for it. It’s labeled as World Music which just one the silliest things to called music because it’s all from the world, ain’t it? Kaira is his debut album and it’s one of the most beautiful albums I’ve ever heard. So where in Africa? It’s a big place, well Diabaté from Mali which is Western Africa. The was recording done in the UK at a place called the Firehouse Studio in London. Kaira was completely recorded in just one day plus it’s only him totally solo without any overdubbed or double-tracking too, unbelievable listening when you think about that fact.

So he’s playing something called a Kora and it’s 21 string harp/lute like instrumental. Toumani was nicknamed The Prince because his father was “The King Of The Kora” recording the very first Kora album so hence he’s The Prince but come after a very long family tradition, many generations in fact. Diabate has made his playing very personal and individual style, unlike any other players of the instrumental using or taking techniques from guitar players and even drummers adding to the tradition playing style. You can totally hear his in his playing, it’s like he’s playing all the instrumentals in a whole band. It’s genius playing because mostly the Kora is used to as a backing for singer/s but he just totally steal the show for them once again hence it’s his solo album.

 The song titles: Karia meaning is simple Peace and was written by his father in the 1940’s, one of the oldest songs on the album. God’s Work is the translation of the opening track Alla L’Aa Ke and dates back to early 20th century from Gambia which where his father’s was born. Second song Jarabi is a love song and in English it’s Passion. Konkoba the longest track is based on a dance rhythm Maarena from the old Mali empire. Tabaka is a love song again, this time from Touba, Senegal. The album cover artwork is Mandkinka cotton robe from Liberia and courtesy of the Museum of Mankind.

My intro to him was from just the below quote and ATP’s festival with The Simpsons’ Matt Groening curated event in 2010 from Gareth Liddiard (The Drones):

Toumani Diabaté is a, and probably the, master of the Kora. The kora has 21 strings, it’s very old and it’s very difficult to describe. (Google it. Or Bing it. Don’t know what Bing is? Google it.) The sound Toumani makes is one of the most beautiful and moving on God’s green earth. It really is extraordinary. His first record Kaira was made in the late ’80s when he was about 23 and it’s one of my personal all time favorite records (along with Raw Power, oddly enough. Yay to Matt G and ATP.). Toumani’s about the 73rd generation of kora player in his family, which is insane. What are you the 73rd generation of that doesn’t somehow involve eating or drinking yourself into an early grave? But, he is the first of his ilk to be influenced by folks like Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. This I find really interesting considering that when West African slaves were brought to what is now the centre (not!!! center) of the West they surely left their instruments behind. And you can bet that after being robbed of anything like spare time these new slaves soon forgot the finer points of their musicianship (from the supreme dexterity that comes from playing all day to the studied Moorish overtones that come from living in the African North West). Yet they evidently never lost their love for stringed instruments of the portable, neck bolted onto a hollow wooden body variety. And a direct consequence of that is the existence of folks like Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix. It wasn’t George Washington who invented playing the fuck out of a guitar and therefore invented most of the West’s 20th century popular culture. It was in all probability Toumani’s great great great granddad. Toumani’s music, although it has modern elements, must somehow be close to what African music was before Colonialism dragged it away, beat it up and dumbed it down into the original, pre Robert Johnson style blues. Thus!!!!!!!!! Toumani’s music can give anyone interested a new perspective of where and how things sit in a historical and cultural sense. But most importantly, it will blow your mind.

It does blow your mind too, it’s just unbelievable and just one of most amazing things to listen too but if you not ever heard everything like it just listen with an open mind off course. The running time is a little less than forty mins. so not to long over the five tracks and it’s so wonderful!  Isn’t just so wonderful? Have you heard it? Or not yet?

Kaira track listing and times:

1. Alla L’Aa Ke 7:14
2. Jarabi 5:04
3. Kaira 8:08
4. Konkoba 10:26
5. Tubaka 9:28


 My Classic Albums are, so far:

Tales From The Australian Underground – Volume 1 & 2 by Various Artists

Station To Station by David Bowie

Unplugged In New York by Nirvana

Rust In Peace by Megadeth

Gunfighter Ballads And Trail Songs by Marty Robbins

Henry’s Dream by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Whatever You Love, You Are by Dirty Three

Gala Mill by The Drones

Black Monk Time by The Monks

Ex Tropical by Lost Animal

Work (Work, Work) by HTRK

In The Wee Small Hours by Frank Sinatra

The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn by Pink Floyd

Songs Of Love And Hate by Leonard Cohen

Warm Leatherette by Grace Jones

The White House by The Dead C

Silence Is Sexy by Einstürzende Neubauten

Lulu by Lou Reed & Metallica

So, this was the reason I started this blog. The idea is simply to write post about one of my fave album each that I consider a classic album. Please leave your comments below about each album because I would love to hear what you think about each album too, cheers!


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