I was listening to Jon Kertzer‘s African Ambiance on KEXP a few weeks ago and only caught the last 30 seconds or so of the show (6-9 PM radio shows are tough for a parent of three kids under the age of 4 1/2!). But they were mesmerizing–the glissando strains of masterful solo kora (West African harp-lute) playing. I wrote Jon asking him what the name of this mellifluous song was. He replied that it was Zoumana Diarra’s Sara (hear it) from his last album, Manding Journey.
I tried to find the album online but quickly discovered that it’s only being distributed by Zoumana himself. Jon suggested contacting Kane Mathis, a local Seattle kora player who provided him with the song for his show. Kane gracefully offered to provide the song to me as well after Zoumana’s manager agreed. So if you like the music, you owe a thank you to Kane, Jon, Sinus Van Egmond and of course to Zoumana.
You can order Manding Journey for $25 by check (no credit card or online sales) at:
Frans Halsstraat 18
7131 VW Lichtenvoorde
Though I’ve only heard this track from the record on the strength of it I’d wager that the rest was superb.
The Leopard Man’s African Music Guide tells us that Zoumana is of Malian griot (a spiritual leader) stock. He’s played with some of the hottest names in music from Alpha Blondy to the Rail Band. He is a master of not only the kora, but the balafon and ngoni as well.
After expressing enthusiasm for the album, I thought the conclusion of The Leopard Man’s review was a bit tepid:
The tunes are not bad either, mostly traditional sounding, they sail along, light as summer clouds. But one hour with this lightness is too much, and one starts longing for variation on a CD without vocals. Zou Diarra could perhaps have achieved this by a more critical choice of tracks, or by arranging his music for a bigger group, i.e. with bass and/or violin/flute, maybe even sax. It is difficult to avoid that a dynamic dimension is lost when a musician is just relating to himself through a whole album.
Consequently I feel that Zou Diarra’s potential is bigger than what is shown on this CD.
I must say that while I’ve only listened to Sara and short excerpts from other songs I don’t need to hear a fully arranged multi-instrumental record to be impressed with Zoumana’s tour de force performance. Keep in mind that he’s playing every instrument on the record. I think it’s remarkable.