Cheick Hamala Diabate brings out the sound of Mali in American soul music | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Cheick Hamala Diabate brings out the sound of Mali in American soul music

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A lot of the roots in American roots music stem from Africa, as Malian-born D.C. musician Cheick Hamala Diabate demonstrates whenever he goes onstage. Diabate plays the banjo and the instrument’s African ancestor, the ngoni, and performs with a sprawling group of musicians, the Griot Street Band, who play horns, guitar, and a dizzying array of percussion. The performances don’t so much join African and American sounds as they remind you that their musical traditions have been fused and re-fused for so long that for some artists, they might as well be one. In songs such as “Diamonds and Gold,” off his last album, 2013’s Anka Ben Mali Denou (Stepback Music), Diabate embraces straightforward blues, hard-driving harmonica and all. “Boudofo,” on the other hand, sounds like it comes straight off a Baaba Maal album. For concert favorite “Mali De Nou,” guitarist Rob Coltun lays some stinging, fuzzed-out Muddy Waters-style lead lines on top of a boiling groove; Diabate himself responds with a banjo solo that sounds like it’s inspired by Jimmy Page (who has also been known to play the banjo on occasion). The horn sections draw from such varying sources as Herbie Hancock and Fela Kuti. The diaspora is everywhere, and Diabate’s music is at home wherever he happens to be.   v

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