Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it's Toumani Diabate's The Mande Variations. Watch a commercial/video for The Mande Variations, buy the album and read Schnipper's thoughts on the album after the jump.
In the bank lobby on Sunday there was a stack of double-sided papers that said “Thirteen Things You Can Do To Make the World A Better Place.” Number two: "Make eye contact; especially into the eyes of the people whom you usually look around. Remember in particular that the aged, people of color, and people with different physical abilities and/or gender representations are routinely made invisible and discounted. Change this.” Number six: “Do your homework: make an effort to learn on your own. Read books/watch movies/listen to music from a perspective that is not your own. Do not have the expectation that everything will be comfortable and make sense as you engage in this process.” Number thirteen: “Put your ideas into motion. Everyone has the thought 'The world would be a better place if people would just...' Be one of those people. Talk to others about your ideas. Get the ball rolling.”
Two hours after I collected that paper I went to NYU’s Skirball Center and saw Toumani Diabate perform. Diabate is a Malian kora player in his early fourties, whose music, FADER online editor Peter Macia described as sounding like “a bubbling brook in heaven.” This is apt. Diabate also dresses appropriately pastel, fluid and light in a curtain-like robe. When he lifted his arms out horizontally across his body, the cloth looked like a finely designed draped taco. The theater has seats like an airplane and the lights were dim and from a hundred feet away it was difficult to see the tiny movements of his fingers against the kora’s fishing wire. In a stuffy room listening to his tiny lush, I closed my eyes and thought about New York. I’d been back in the city less than a day, having just returned from a vacation in Baja. A day before I sat on a balcony in my underwear just after 6AM watching the sun come up over the Sea of Cortez. Then I got on a plane and came back home. Diabate and his bubbly brook were waiting for me, it seemed (though he inevitably started late), touring on the back of his first solo album in twenty years. He, and possibly the kora, is at his/its best solo, plinking repetition of fingerpicked dings. I had to go to the bathroom but ignored it, slid my coat under my seat and listened. It felt nice. It appeared he did not want to play an encore—he admitted he was tired—but finally reemerged, possibly begrudgingly, with a Malian singer in tow. She wore a similar robe, though hers was more gownlike, along with pointy high heels. Her voice was sharp and gorgeous; when she sang quickly, it sounded like she was berating and demeaning and I mean that well. I went home after that.
My dad sent me an email today that said: “I am in a strange mood about voting. In the last election I was angry at a country that could possibly reelect a man of moderate intelligence who is most easily manipulated by those around him, like his VP. Today I am sad. We have had four of the worst years in my lifetime and there is the possibility that we could choose a man as president who professes to know nothing about economics and has chosen a running mate who is barely more qualified than the Chairman of the Farmington Town Council to hold national office. Auto sales are at their lowest since WWII; Connecticare [Connecticut-based HMO] laid off one hundred people; [my friend] got laid off from his job at the casino because people are not spending money on gas to drive to the casino to lose at the slots. Where are we headed?” It’s a good question, right? (“Where are you going, where have you been?”) But I can take some comfort in the fact that my father first qualifies his mood as strange, then articulates it as sad. I can only hope his glumness is unusual. This morning I got up early, voted for Barack Obama. My father walked to the polls and cast his vote for Obama, too. Hopefully that will be enough. But if not, and McCain wins, maybe everyone should take their tax savings and buy themselves Toumani Diabate albums. Or if they have the money, take a trip to Baja. My back is tan. That has never happened before. I grew a vacation beard. What do you think?