In what is certainly the first of its kind, highly respected father-and-son duo Toumani and Sidiki Diabat? have teamed up to record an album of unaccompanied duets for the kora, the ancient 21-string harp of West Africa. Over the years, Toumani Diabat? has established himself as the instrument's modern master, taking over the mantle from his father, Sidiki Sr., who recorded the first-ever kora album in 1970. While Sidiki Sr. was deeply rooted in the traditional music of his native Mali, Toumani brought the kora to the rest of the world, pushing the boundaries of his creativity and collaborating with artists of many different genres. As the family tradition continued, Toumani's eldest son, named Sidiki after his grandfather, took up the instrument as well, although he initially came to prominence in his home country as a drummer and beat programmer with Malian rapper Iba One. But, while hip-hop is one of his passions, Sidiki's respect for the mesmerizing and complex instrument of his lineage remains, and in 2013 he and his father entered London's RAK Studios to record Toumani & Sidiki with World Circuit team Nick Gold and Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club, Ali Farka Tour?) along with co-producer Lucy Duran. The album's ten songs are largely based on interpretations of deeply obscure kora pieces as well as Mande classics from Mali played with a contemporary approach. The beautiful, unadorned recordings dance along in strange, haunting rhythms with both players swapping solos and basslines and issuing the almost mystical, cascading runs that the instrument is known for. Captured warmly in stereo, Toumani is heard prominently in the left channel and Sidiki in the right. This is a rare album in many ways, full of great depth and subtle nuances, and choosing highlights is almost a disservice, as it hangs together so nicely as a single piece. Still, the mysterious, snaky groove of opening track "Hamadoun Toure" is perfectly evocative of the roads Toumani & Sidiki will lead you down. ~ Timothy Monger
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