SOAS University of London

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Mr Toumani Diabaté

Mr Toumani Diabate

Toumani Diabaté is one of the most creatively prolific and successful musicians on the African continent. He was described by the Observer as ‘one of the world’s most pre-eminent musicians in any genre’. Mr Diabaté plays the kora, a harp with 21 strings unique to West Africa. More than any other kora player he is responsible for bringing this instrument to audiences around the world.

Mr Diabaté was born in Mali’s capital, Bamako in 1965 into a family of griots (hereditary musician/historian caste) whose lineage stretches back 71 generations, father to son. His father, Sidiki Diabaté, was a kora player of legendary fame in West Africa - dubbed ‘King of the Kora’. Despite the musical environment in which Mr Diabaté was raised, he was self-taught, never learning directly from his father except by listening.

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Mr Toumani Diabaté, Honorary Doctorate, 2015 Graduation

Mr Diabaté recorded his first solo album Kaira at the age of 21, the first ever solo kora album and still a best seller, produced by SOAS’ Dr Lucy Durán. She has has since produced seven albums by Toumani including his latest, Toumani & Sidiki, which features him with his son Sidiki in instrumental kora duets.

He has worked with musicians from many different fields of music including the London Symphony Orchestra, Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz, and the Icelandic pop singer Bjork, amongst countless others.

Mr Diabaté has enjoyed recognition for his contributions to the development of the kora and African music in general including numerous GRAMMY awards, such as for his duet album In the Heart of the Moon recorded with the great Ali Farka Touré and for the album Ali & Toumani. He was nominated for a GRAMMY Award for Toumani & Sidiki this year. Mr Diabaté was appointed UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador in December 2008, using his music to spread awareness on HIV and AIDS prevention.