Zani Diabaté will always be best known for his work with the Super Djata Band, Mali’s first private orchestra – but this album, his last recording, was made with a far smaller dozen-strong ensemble. Accompanying him are one of his children, Sinaly ‘Papa’ Diabate who plays solo and rhythm guitar, dundum, djembe, yabara and karagnan. Others of his Papa’s generation also join the grand old man, many the sons of his former musical collaborators.
It was recorded at the famous Studio Bogolon in the Malian capital Bamako, produced by Mady Traoré and with executive producer Ibrahima Sylla heading operations.
Diabaté took the resulting tapes to Paris in December 2010 to put some finishing touches to them and create the final mix at Studio Kashmir. Tragically, while in the Paris studio, he suffered a massive stroke, fell into a deep coma and died the following month, on the 5th January 2011, in a Parisian hospital, members of his family by his side.
It was a sad end for a man regarded as an expert in all of the Manding musical genres and the many instruments from Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, and Burkina Faso that he had mastered, including the kora and balafon. Yet he was best known as a guitarist and, during his lifetime, he accompanied many of Mali’s most famous musicians, including Banzoumana Sissoko, Sramoro Diabaté, and Madou Badioun Kouyaté.
By the time he was a teenager, Djibaté had joined Troupe Folklorique, L’Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, and L’Orchestre National becoming renowned as a percussionist, dancer, comedian, and a choreographer. He was later, aged 16, to join Ballet National de Mali that acted as an ambassador for Madibo Keita’s cultural authenticity policy in the 1960s. He was eventually to rise to become a director and even was appointed his country’s Minister of Culture where he was a tireless campaigner for the survival of the rich and varied music of the Manding world – now, regrettably, under threat from a new wave of Islamic fundamentalism in north of his country. For his services, he received one of Mali’s top civilian awards, the Commandeur de L’Ordre National.
Zani Djibaté never really attained international recognition other than with his work with the Super Djata Band, formed in 1969, that resulted in an album being released in Europe in the mid 1980s. It was described as an amalgam of the music of Wassoulou hunters, Bozo fishermen, the Mandingo and Fula peoples of southern Mali with the added spice of his extraordinary guitar. But attempting to capture the raw energy of a live performance by Super Djata on a recording was tricky, and although the eponymously named release was well received, it did not launch the superstar career that his immense talent deserved.
So Djibaté resorted to a performance career in and around Bamako with only occasional forays further afield. Consequently, there is a scarcity of his recordings – he only made one other album, Kabayko Zani, released in 2006. But if there is any aesthetic justice in this world, Tientalaw will serve as a lasting legacy to a highly respected musician.
The album presents a dozen songs, representing more than an hour of recordings of compositions penned by Zani Diabaté collaborating with one or another of the band’s vocalists: Alou ‘Baden’ Sangaré, Moussa ‘Vieux’ Fané and Alou ‘Sikasso’ Sangaré. Also in evidence is his stupendous guitar style that, although in a class of its own, has been compared in its fluidity and intense power to that of Jimi Hendrix.