February 6, 2009 / 2:27 AM / 11 years ago

Grammy-nominated Mali musician gets Obama boost

LONDON (Billboard) - Mali’s Toumani Diabate, a Grammy contender on Sunday in the traditional world music album category, has fans in high places.

President Barack Obama, no less, recommended “Kulanjan” — his 1999 recording with Taj Mahal — in a survey for the Borders book chain.

Diabate won the traditional world music album Grammy in 2005 for “In the Heart of the Moon,” a collaboration with the late Ali Farka Toure.

His current Grammy contender, “The Mande Variations,” an album of purely instrumental music performed on the West African harp (kora) — could easily have been nominated in a classical category. Like the Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar, to whom he has often been compared, Diabate plays with a virtuosity and seriousness that is undeniably classical in purpose, while the album’s title references Bach’s “Goldberg Variations.”

The album has sold 7,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But U.S. distributor Nonesuch is formulating plans to capitalize on the Grammy attention.

“Toumani is one of the greatest musical artists in the world, regardless of category or country of origin,” says David Bither, Nonesuch’s New York-based senior VP. “We look forward to a performance in the White House sometime in the next four years.”


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