Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Toumani Diabaté's Symmetric Orchestra: Boulevard de l'Indépendance [Nonesuch, 2006]
Conceived and directed by Malian kora luminary Diabaté, this grandly danceable pan-Mandé big band aims to balance modernism and neotraditionalism as it reconceives Sundiata Keita's empire for a democracy that only arrived in 1992. Nine tracks feature six lead singers and 26 musicians, a Pee Wee Ellis horn section chips in, and the material is shamelessly surefire--griot classics, horn-tutti salsa, an apt reminder that the Wolof word for "yes" is "wow," and the finest hippopotamus metaphor in God's creation. That would be "Mali Sadio," meaning "hippopotamus with white legs" and concerning the slaughter of such a beast by a homo sapiens with white skin. Too often in "world music," the kora lulls, slipping exotically into didgeridoo mode. Diabaté has won a Grammy playing that game. Here he rules, and he rocks. A-