Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unusual Instruments: Queen Bee

Taj Mahal/Toumani Diabate: Queen Bee

[purchase album]

Taj Mahal first came to my attention on account of George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. No, he didn't play in the concert - that was Ravi Shankar - but the (however misguided) Indian subcontinent reference quickly led me to Taj, who was coming in to his own at about that time.  When I delved deeper, I came cross Taj as a blues musician in his own right (and purchased most of his albums through the late 60s and early 70s - Satisfied NTickled Too ! Wow !) I also learned that one of Taj's accomplices (Jessie Ed Davis) did play in Harrison's Bangladesh concert.

Thoroughly American (born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks and brought up in Harlem and later Massachusetts), he took the stage name Taj  Mahal on account of an affinity for the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi. A musician who has consistently researched and then performed the roots of music, be it the Blues or beyond, he has deepened his "roots" over the years to get back, through "world music" to Africa.

As part of his musical journey, among others, he has run across and worked with Toumani Diabate, a Malian kora player. Mali? Kora? Well... yes: World Music. The kora is a squash (see image above), and - when dried - can become the body section of a stringed instrument that sounds a bit like a harp. Diabate is one of the masters.

What we get here is a unique mix of where African music now is, and a taste of where it may have been when Taj's ancestor's first arrived in America: Blues and its African roots. Honey Bee is from the 1999 album Kulanjan.

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