Abou Diarra



Abou Diarra is one of those rare artists who only embarks on a new album when driven by a deep internal need. Attached to the Mandinka traditions he absorbed in his birth country, Mali, while always seeking to evolve his music in unexpected directions, he knows not to rush but to wait patiently for the right time and then mobilize all his creativity to transform this inner imperative into music. He is utterly indifferent to fashions, trends and the accidental reasons that lead him to compose one song or another. For example, he held on for several years to some magnificent Fula and Mandinka flute parts recorded for him by Cheikh Diallo and Simon Winsé. If we can hear them now in Koya Blues and Djalaba, it is because the need to use them finally presented itself as this new project emerged. “I wanted a change of direction to see what would happen,” he explains. “For Europeans and Americans, West African music all sounds very similar, with always the same arrangements. So I thought about what I wanted. I didn’t decide straight away. Everything has its time. The time hadn’t come yet. When it did come, I got on with it.”

Less paradoxically than it might appear, this unusual relationship with time is what makes Abou so modern. As he tells it, his life has unfolded outside the markers of our age in an atemporality where the power of images, words and symbols is much more decisive than that of technology. No computers, no ultra-fast travel, no disconnection between the individual and his destiny. Abou walked alone for a long time. Searching for an instrument, he found the kamale ngoni, a kind of harp, and then a teacher, the blind musician Vieux Kanté, who took him into his home to teach him the traditions and their most secret combinations at great length. With this kind of background, the young man could have been content with teaching in his turn – indeed, this is part of his artistic activity. But for such a curious, open mind, tradition has to continue to live, which means sustaining it through new exchanges.

abou-diarra_-vic0114_album-koya_credit-victor-delfim_nbThe encounter with Nicolas Repac proved decisive. He is the arranger of this fourth album, named Koya after Abou’s mother, who herself sings on Koya Blues with her beautiful, deep and slightly husky voice. Again, Abou has been in no rush, letting almost ten years pass between his first conversations with the French guitarist and the beginning of their collaboration. What attracted him to this travelling companion of Arthur H and creator of a handful of precious albums including two with Mamani Keita (Yelema in 2006 and Gagner l’argent français in 2011) was his soft playing style, the fact that he “was not aggressive”. Repac has brought extra dynamism to Abou’s music without ever betraying or distorting it. Decorating it with discreet electronic touches, he has neither disturbed its characteristic swing nor sharpened its typically African curves into computerized right angles.

Adding to these subtle arrangements, Vincent Bucher’s harmonica reflects the Malian musician’s desire to reach out to a musical form he loves, sensitive to its natural affinities with the Malian traditions he interprets on the ngoni using pentatonic scales. “This is an album with a very bluesy tonality,” he explains, “a very nontraditional tonality.” Again, this is an aesthetic direction that emerged naturally, and the encounter does not feel at all forced. Of course Vincent Bucher has himself studied the scales and phrases specific to the Mandinka traditions, an attitude that inspired the greatest respect in Abou. The world-famous griot and phenomenal musician Toumani Diabaté also plays kora on two tracks, Djarabi and Labanko. This perfectly chosen mentor has brought out the very best in Abou. With the internal and external conditions converging, he has thrown himself into the present moment, giving himself up fully to his art. His fervour can be felt in every note of this rich, humble album in the image of its creator: an absolute sincerity, a full acceptance of life as a constant process of becoming – and, above all, the serene awareness of a higher harmony.


Abou Diarra is one of those rare artists who doesn’t get involved in a new project unless pushed by an inner profound necessity. Koya, named after his mother as a tribute,  joins quite naturally the continuance of a long musical thought process while venturing in new directions. For the first time, Abou intertwines Nicolas Repac samples with his own electro grooves mixed together with Vincent Bucher harmonica blues. Nonetheless, he is never venturing far from a genuine malian musical spirit, being on the kamele n’goni or the singing, nicely sustained by Toumani Diabaté. Abou Diarra’s fervor shows behind each note of this album, full of humble richness, like himself : a deep sincerity, a full acceptation of life seen as a constant becoming, and towering over all, the serene feeling of a higher harmony.

Credits :

  • (P)&(C) : Mix et Métisse
  • Distribution : L’Autre Distribution
  • Edition : RFI Talent / CSB Productions
  • Songwriter / composer : Abou Diarra
  • Music director : Nicolas Repac
  • Label producer : Maet Charles
  • Recorded at Studio Canal 93 by Jean-Marc Pinaud
  • Mixed and mastered by Daffé Kouyaté
  • “Mogo Djigui” mixed by Jean-Marc Pinaud
  • Visual director : Mounir Kabaj
  • Artwork : Abdelaziz Kabbaj
  • Photographer : François Mallet
  • Graphs : Smaïl Kanouté
  • Abou Diarra : voice – n’goni – percussion – backing vocal
  • Amadou Daou : percussion
  • Daouda Dembelé : guitar
  • François Piriou : baby bass
  • Jean-Sébastien Masanet : bass
  • Koyan Diarra : voice sample
  • Martin Coriton : drums
  • Moussa Koita : keyboard
  • Nicolas Repac : sample – guitar
  • Vincent Bucher : harmonica
  • Simon Winsé : flute
  • Mariam Tounkara : backing vocal
  • Toumani Diabaté : special guest – kora in “Djarabi” and “Labanko”

Title of songs :

  1. NÉ NANA                                               5’07
  2. KOYA BLUES                                        3’01
  3. DJARABI (Ft Toumani Diabaté)       4’05
  4. TUNGA                                                   3’33
  5. DJALABA                                               3’17
  6. MOGO DJIGUI                                     3’49
  7. SOUGOU MANDI                                3’52
  8. KAMELEN KOLON                             4’31
  9. ABOUNICOLAS                                    4’06
  10. MA CHÉRIE                                          3’44
  11. LABANKO (Ft Toumani Diabaté)     4’38
  12. NE NANA                                               3’23
  13. DJARABI                                                3’23