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Live Duos From Birmingham: Tir Na Nóg, Melt-Banana & Toumani/Sidiki Diabaté

Martin Longley By

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Around two-thirds of the way into their first UK tour together, Toumani Diabate and his son Sidiki had been given ample time to develop a performing rapport, not that such a thing wasn't already in place for the recording of this Malian kora duo's recent debut album. Warwick Arts Centre is actually just outside Coventry, which is just over 20 minutes on the London train from Birmingham. The theatre is WAC's medium-sized space, and it was well on the way to being filled, its audience hushed for the initial entrance of Sidiki, who played a solo introductory passage. Before too long, Toumani glided onto the stage, picking up his own kora, which was set at a lower level than Sidiki's, the son preferring a higher stand and stool as a playing position. It was anticipated that witnessing the pair playing live would assist in unravelling the complex interlacing of their lines (the koras are literally strung with fishing line!), but nothing is so simple, as their elaborate phrases are intimately intertwined in a constantly shifting ascendancy. Solos aren't so easy to pick out, as each piece is akin to an extended meshing of individual voices, working across each other, behind, around and inside.

Fortunately, the crowd were perfectly attuned to the music's elaborate unwinding, settling into a calmed, meditative concentration. The lighting was at a gloaming level, creating conditions that might have induced sleep in a weary punter. Even if the listeners found themselves drifting in and out of focus, this was no bad state, as 90 minutes seemed subjectively like 45, a sure sign that the music was working its spell. Shortly before set's end, Sidiki shifted a microphone closer, and started to sing, softly, casually, as if spontaneously. It was a secret means of altering the atmosphere, right at the close. Many other performances, hanging onto a single-minded mood, might have courted tedium, but this gig left the audience believing that it could have been short-changed under the rules of the European clock. In reality, it was an epic journey of acoustic wonderment, subjectively fleeting due to its magical properties.

Photo Credit:
Katja Ogrin

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