• Manuel Lagos
  • Kassé Mady Diabaté

Since the early 70s Kassé Mady Diabaté has been one of Mali’s greatest griots, a hereditary caste of musicians whose purpose has been to share stories, sing praises, record history, and recite poetry, among other oral traditions. Until the last few decades it was viewed as improper for someone not born into a griot caste to sing, although that restriction has long dissolved—but Diabaté is the real deal. He’s spent most of his career working in bands and orchestras, and he only stepped out on his own in the late 80s. He’s made a handful of terrific records under his own name, but none have possessed the delicate power of his brand-new effort Kiriké (Six Degrees/No Format!), a spare, all-acoustic effort produced by the French cellist Vincent Segal. The latter excelled with the same format in his collaborations with Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko, who also appears on the new record. The format allows Diabaté’s voice to shine—an airy, refined balance of sweetness and soul, gentleness and force. The whole album is superb, but I’m especially taken with today’s 12 O’Clock Track, “Simbo,” which opens the collection. The singer meditates over a lattice of resonant balafon patterns played by Lansine Kouyate, twangy ngoni lines from Makan “Badjé” Tounkara, and the mournful long tones of Segal.