Mande Guitar is the culmination of a decades long friendship between an American researcher, writer and guitarist, and a master of the acoustic guitar from Mali. It's also the first child of a new African Guitar series and a new record label.
Boubacar 'Badian' Diabaté spent his life making music, eventually graduating from The National Institute of Arts in Bamako, and becoming an in-demand guitarist with the likes of the Guinean powerhouse ensemble Bembeya Jazz. Banning Eyre has a long list of credentials, as a musician, academic researcher, traveller, radio producer and writer. The two met in Mali in 1995 and have maintained a friendship that eventually led to this recording, made in NY at the studios of Afropop Worldwide.
I have been a serious fan of African guitarists, particularly from the north and west of the continent, for a very long time, and save for Boubacar Traoré, I cannot think of an artist who so immediately grabbed my attention and amazed me as Badian Diabaté. There is a fluid quality to his playing, a sense of casual grace that seems so simple on the surface. You hear the song, you feel the rhythm, and it is only as you are pulled in deeper that you begin to see the expertise of a master craftsman.
This is a primarily solo guitar recording, with some light double tracking, his brother Manfa contributing some guitar on just a few tracks, and some light percussion by Baye Kouyaté on one other. Eyre himself was invited to join them on one track. The beauty of it is, such is the skill of the artist that you often don't realize you are listening to just one guitar most of the time. Fingers fly and notes layer themselves effortlessly over one another, and two hands seem like four. Best of all, there's no pyrotechnics, no flash. It feels traditional in some sense, but the playing style is original and modern; everything is in service to the music. The title sums it all up, this is simply Mande guitar, 2021. Listen.
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Filmographer Michal Shapiro made a wonderful video of Badian Diabaté's playing in 2010. She gives you a close look at his technical wizardry with some great camera angles and closeups.