On August 6th, 2009 I drove to Montreal to see one of the greatest musicians in the world. And Bela Fleck.
Don’t get me wrong, if there’s a banjo player that I can listen to all day long it’s Bela Fleck. The guy is a phenom, an innovator, I might even say he is a visionary in the art of banjo; a thoughtful, intelligent player and a musician of the highest calibre.
But when he stands next to Toumani Diabate he all but disappears.
I first saw Toumani Diabate at the Ottawa Bluesfest. It was the first time I had ever heard someone play the kora, a fretless gourd-like instrument with dozens of strings. I had seen the kora before – there were a few of them perpetually hanging on the wall for sale at the Ottawa Folklore Centre – but I was fully unprepared when I first heard what the instrument was capable of in the right hands, and Toumani’s are clearly the right hands.
I was sitting close to the stage and the guy sitting next to me recorded the show on his iPhone. It was my first time seeing that sort of technology and it almost made me want one. But as soon as the show started any and all thoughts left me and I locked into a musical bliss that persisted throughout the whole concert.
The great Malian musician was so stellar, so rhythmically accurate, his flurries of notes cascaded with computer-like precision but carried with them the soul of the Sahara. Covering melody, bass, and harmony all by himself it’s hard to remember what Bela Fleck did to add to the experience, but being no slouch himself he in no way detracted from the experience.
In all it was two hours of breathless brilliance witnessed from the 4th row of a soft-seat theatre. Not a bad way to spend an evening (and $50).