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(Realworld 79753 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/15/2004)
My grandmother had an expression she used when someone would join in a conversation, "another country heard from." The phrase is an apt one in the sphere of world music, as American audiences are exposed to delightful sounds from places many citizens of this self-absorbed country had never heard of. This time, it's an excellent new recording from an artist from Mauritania. His name is Daby Touré, and his new CD is called Diam.
Mauritania is on the northwest coast of Africa, bordering Senegal and Mali, two countries who have seen their share of artists making a world-wide impact. Mauritania is multi-ethnic, at the border between the Moorish and Arabic people in the north, and the black Africans to the south. But Daby Touré borrows influences far more widely than that, in a recording that is surprisingly spare in instrumentation.
Touré comes from a musical family, though he was not encouraged to play while growing up. His father, Hamidou Touré, was a member of a large family who did take to music, but Hamidou took a path that led him to medical school. As a doctor, he was sent to work in a desert town, where he married, and became the father of Daby, who was named after a family patriarch. Daby's parents divorced and he was sent to live with an uncle in a village on the banks of the Senegal River. Daby attributes village life with influencing his music. After returning to live with his father Daby would often hear him playing music after a hard day's work at the clinic, but the father, Hamidou, decided that music was not an appropriate pursuit for his son, especially in a country in which musicians were apparently not looked on very highly in the social or economic class, and admonished the son from using his instruments. But as most kids would, whenever he could Daby sneaked a chance to try out his father's instruments, and soon was teaching himself to play, as well as absorbing whatever Western pop music he could from the radio, and pirated cassettes.
After the political situation in Mauritania became difficult, Hamidou Touré decided to leave, after receiving an invitation to join brothers and cousins in a popular world music group named Touré Kunda, based in Paris. He invited his son along and eventually the younger Touré at age 18 found torn between studies and music, and eventually decided to drop out of business school to take up music full time, and became part of the active African world music scene in Paris by the early 1990s. Together with his cousin Omar, they formed Touré Touré, a group that combined African influences with jazz. The Touré cousins hooked up with French keyboard man Jean-Pierre Como of jazz-rock fusion band called Sixún and that cemented Daby Touré's fascination with the jazz-rock fusion of groups like Weather Report and the Pat Metheny Group. They released a CD called Laddé, which did well in France, and got the group noticed widely. But Daby Touré decided to pursue a solo career, so he started on a home recording project, playing most of the instruments himself, and bringing in some occasional help, including techno producer Cyrille Dufay to widen the sound.
The result is Diam, which translates as "peace." One can hear many of the influences that have gone into Daby Touré's music over the years, plus a surprising amount of Spanish or Latin American influence. Touré's main instrument is a nylon string guitar that sounds like the small flamenco-style instrument. The acoustic-guitar dominated sound, with the clear melodies of many of his songs can also give a folk-style sonic color. As mentioned, most of what is heard on the CD is performed by Touré himself, with a fair amount of overdubbing, plus the help of others including backing vocalists, the keyboards of co-producer Dufay, plus some percussion.
Most of the lyrics, as translated in summary in the CVD booklet, are about hope and optimism. Some of the lyrics, though are untranslatable. The opening track, called Iris is in an imaginary language Touré invented. He says that the song is about those who have been deprived of freedom, and how they wish to fly away. The piece is typical of the appealing sound of the CD, a fascinating stylistic blend that draws its influences from a wide swath. <<>>
With a more typically African sound is Mi Wawa, which Touré says is about respecting one's roots. It can also show hints of American folk music. <<>>
A track called Yaw shows the Spanish and Latin American influence of Touré's music. The lyrics are about a jilted lover. Musically, it's one of the CD's highlights. <<>>
The folky side of Touré's music is also heard on Mi Malama, whose lyrics are about a man just celebrating life in his African environs. <<>>
A further stylistic departure comes on Hassina, with its Indian sitar, and otherwise folky beat. The lyrics are about a friend trying to bring back together a couple who are going through rough times. <<>>
Touré's Latin-American or Spanish influenced guitar work is highlighted on the track called Wadiur, whose lyrics are an admonishment to those would leave home and forget their families. <<>>
There is one song sung partly in English. Mansa is about a past king also named Touré, who according to Daby Touré protected his people from invasion. <<>>
Another of the most musically interesting pieces is I Dagua whose lyrical premise is that fame or reputation can be fleeting. With the exception of some percussion, all the instruments are played by Touré. <<>>
Since about the early 1990s, Paris has become a hotbed of World Music, much of it drawing on African influences. Daby Touré, originally from Mauritania, has created a delightful recording that brings together a fascinating set of influences, not only from the various ethnic currents of his country, but from Spanish and Latin American styles, as well as hints of American jazz and folk. The small-scale instrumentation on Diam, with fairly minimal percussion is not typical of contemporary African music, but is the product of Touré's method of working by himself in large part in a home studio playing many or most of the instruments himself. The result is both eclectic and very appealing.
Our grade for sound quality is about a "B." Overall, the sonics are fairly good, but working in a home studio does result is a few compromises in fidelity, and the dynamic range is spoiled by the too much compression in places.
Mauritania is not a place one normally thinks of as a hotbed of musical innovation. In all fairness, Daby Touré made Diam in Paris and England, and not back home Mauritania, but the CD is a fine example of the pleasant musical surprises that can come from out of the way places.
(c) Copyright 2004 George D. Graham. All rights reseved.
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