Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b Kita, Mali) African multi-instrumentalist, particularly balafon (a xylophone), violin, sax, guitar. Largely unsung hero of contemporary West African music, important for its transition from straightforward traditional to amplified music. Recruited to establish the First National Orchestra in Guinea (under the presidential administration of Sékou Touré), visiting Senegal, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, returning to Mali '60; Founding member of L'Orchestre National 'A' de la République de Mali -- the 'A' merely designating that they were the first (albeit premier) band in the series. The album L'Orchestre National 'A' de la République de Mali was released by the Berlin-based Bärenreiter-Musicaphon label as part of a series capturing a range of popular music from Mali; 'Janfa' and 'Duga' were subsequently included on Stern's Mali Music -- Legendary Bands Of Mali compilation '88. Diabaté was playing electric guitar in his own distinctive and left-handed style; students from this band later became founding members of the Rail Band, while Diabaté joined the highly influential Ambassadeurs, with whom he recorded and toured, incl. the USA '78 sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation; he jammed on balafon with Lionel Hampton in Washington DC to the delight of the audience. Later performed with griot musicians Ami Koïta (spelled Amy Koyte in early accounts), Tata Bambo and Kandia Kouyate. Notable appearances include violin and balafon accompaniment on Koïta's eponymous '88 album on Bamako, and balafon on Tambo Bambo Kouyate's Djely Mousso on Stern's/Syllart '89. Reunited with Salif Keïta '89, both formerly of Les Ambassadeurs, to promote Keïta's Ko-yan; his solo balafon reaffirming Keïta's roots: his band had been criticized for occasional rock excesses; Keïta was responding with an album more traditional in content and approach. Diabaté has remained a stalwart of the West African recording scene; innumerable session credits incl. Adama Diabaté's Jako Baye on Stern's and Toumani Diabaté's Djelika on Hannibal '95.