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The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music The BBC Radio 3 Awards for World Music
Djelimady Tounkara

Artist: Djelimady Tounkara

Category: Africa (Winner)

Mali has one of the most intensely musical cultures in all Africa, and among that countryıs greatest musicians is the guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. While he's not nearly as well known as his compatriot Ali Farka Touré, he has been a driving force in Mali's rich music scene since the early 60s.

The former shepherd and drummer began playing in the local 'Orchestre' in Kita, a town in Western Mali renowned for its musical community. Moving to the capital Bamako he was soon in demand as a solo player at weddings. He keenly absorbed the influence of Cuban and Congolese music from the radio and spent much of the 1960s building his reputation as a player in the bands Misra Jazz and L'Orchestre Nacional du Mali.

By the early '70s he was the lead electric guitarist with the legendary Rail Band, backing first Salif Keita and then Mory Kante. They were the top band in Mali until Kante left at the end of that decade. Despite a handful of superb releases in the 1980s and early '90s the Rail Bandıs popularity faded at home.

Nevertheless, Djelimady maintained an international profile with recordings like Big String Theory by the small group Bajourou. Such was his reputation as a guitarist among those in the know that he was actually invited to join the Buena Vista Social Club on the eve of their historic first session. But he never made it to Cuba on that occasion.

Incredibly, it wasn't until this year that his first solo album was released. Sigui showcases his remarkable finger picking skills in the context of an acoustic ensemble. Tounkara reinterprets old traditional griot tunes and a number of classic songs from the Rail Band years with the help of nine talented singers and instrumentalists. His intricate runs of notes are accompanied by percussion, bass, guitar and the scrabbling notes of the 'ngoni', considered by many to be West African precursor of the banjo.

Fans of Djelimady's inimitable guitar technique have been waiting a long time for this record and few are disappointed with it.

Biography by Jon Lusk, November 2001



Djelimady Tounkara is the main character in Banning Eyre's new book In Griot Time: An American guitarist in Mali. Read an excerpt at www.serpentstail.com


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