Exploring Madison's Music Scene
Jun 20, 2013
10:13 AMLocal Sounds
TANI DIAKITE AND THE AFROFUNKSTARS - Dalonkan
There’s a defining moment on Tani Diakite and the Afrofunkstars’ debut album, Dalonkan, right at the beginning of track 7: “Laban (the Last).” In the only English words spoken on the album, Diakite says, “Thank you…very much.” He’s probably speaking to DNA Studios engineer Matt Kramer for giving him something he needed before launching into the vocal track but he could just as easily be thanking his family, friends and the entire community. There is such a sincerity in his voice, in this simple exclamation and in all his singing. You see, Tani Diakite nearly didn’t live to realize these songs and the album that is Dalonkan. In April of 2010 he was severely injured in a car accident. The musical community, as it always does, rallied to his cause, raising money at an assortment of fundraisers to help his family and pay his medical bills.
Diakite is from Mali, specifically the Wassoulou region near Guinea. Wassoulou music is one of the two forms of West African music ethnomusicologists believe to be the origin of the American blues, which developed out of music forms dating back to the American slave trade from West Africa. Diakite plays a traditional instrument called a kamele n’goni which is a stringed gourd with a banjo-like timbre. It has ten or eleven strings and the ones Diakite plays are built by him. It’s a very rhythmic sound and almost every track on Dalonkan starts with a theme played on the kamele n’goni.
The aforementioned “Laban (The Last)” is a highlight, although the entire album is extremely listenable as a whole. If you want to get an idea of Diakite’s proficiency on the kamele d’goni, just listen to the first few seconds where he peels off an incredibly fluent solo passage. The band launches in with a very fast rhythm, and the whole thing has a remarkable groove. Guitarist Matt Manske turns in several striking performances and here he really gets cooking, even producing some distortion.
“Yelema (Change)” sounds more like a folk or pop tune and is very lyrical. Keyboardist Peter Baggenstoss also has some notable improvisations, particularly on the lead track “Naremakan Mandinka” and his Wurlitzer organ on “Nagan N’Tolo (Come Play With Me)” really fits the dubstep feel. Here drummer Hugu Reynolds’ snare drum also comes to the fore, played with a metallic crack.
The rhythms are central to all the songs, very hypnotic and complex and led by the themes introduced by Diakite on the kamele n’goni. There is a folk-song quality to the music as well that are expanded to include jazz elements which are especially apparent in the use of horns. Headphones are a big plus in sussing out all the intricacies.
Diakite’s voice steals the show in the end, however. Authentic and melodic, with poise and control. He frequently sings of nature (the album’s notes provide lyrical translation) and spiritual themes with frequent references to himself and his family and ancestors in Mali. “In the end, we will never know about the world / This is why we should enjoy our time,” he sings in “Laban (The Last).” We should all take a little time and enjoy this unique artist living and creating in our midst.