Last July, Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté debuted his pan-African Symmetric Orchestra to international acclaim with the release of Boulevard de L’Indépendance (World Circuit/Nonesuch). In March Diabaté brings his Symmetric Orchestra to the U.S. for the first time. For a complete list of performance dates, please check out the World Music Concerts section of the Global Rhythm website.
The album has received overwhelming critical acclaim in the U.S. and the U.K. The Boston Globe called the record, “a landmark and a party,” while Down Beat gave Boulevard five stars and called it “an Afro-pop masterpiece.” Time Out New York said, “Diabaté’s thrilling kora [is] played with a virtuosity and feeling that match Symmetric’s big-band energy.” The Independent gave the album four stars and called it “a triumph.” Diabaté won a Grammy last year for his collaboration with the late Ali Farka Touré, In the Heart of the Moon.
Over the last decade, Diabaté and his Symmetric Orchestra have performed almost every Friday night at Bamako’s Hogon club. They have become one of the most popular bands in the city’s vast music scene, celebrated across West Africa and beyond. Like the album’s title—taken from the main road that bisects Bamako—the group’s name refers to a balance between tradition and progress: music preserved from the Mandé Empire that once connected West Africa and contemporary dance-music styles. The Symmetric Orchestra comprises players from Senegal, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Mali, and its instrumentation includes electric guitar, bass, and drums, as well as the more traditional kora, ngoni, and balafon. Boulevard de l’Indépendance captures the Symmetric Orchestra’s singular sound, which in nine tracks spans everything from age-old Mandé standards to Cuban-Senegalese salsa. The album was recorded in two weeks of all-night sessions and features a string section, a horn section arranged by Pee Wee Ellis, and singers including the local hero Kasse Mady Diabaté.
Fifty-fourth in a hereditary line of master musicians and griots, Toumani Diabaté is simultaneously revered as the guardian of an ancient musical tradition and as a bold, boundary-crossing experimentalist. He has earned acclaim for inventive solo records as well as collaborations with Blur’s Damon Albarn, American bluesman Taj Mahal, and the flamenco group Ketama, among others.