We tend to think of rhythm as the essence of African music, being its characteristic element. That West African rhythms were cross-fertilized with European classical harmonies in America to create the genres of jazz and their stepchildren blues, rock, hip-hop, et al, only serves to spotlight the significance of rhythm as we experience it. And though the kora, the twenty-one-stringed lute-shaped instrument unique to West Africa is played rhythmically—indeed, polyrhythmically—it is the forerunner of the modern guitar as a true chordophone where the player can create harmony as well as fascinating rhythms simultaneously.
No one does this in a more compelling, musical and virtuosic manner than Toumani Diabaté, who is to the kora what Hendrix was to the guitar. Tracing seventy-one generations of griots, or master musical village storyteller’s chroniclers to his Malian heritage—including the “King of the Kora” Sidiki Diabaté (1922-1996)—Diabaté has expanded that village tradition on a global level by communicating his music mastery on a world stage. He also skillfully incorporates rock and pop genres into his playing that extends beyond his African roots and has immensely expanded the technical possibilities of the instrument. Diabaté will be heard on this program as kora soloist and with his own group the Symmetric Orchestra, as well as with Carlos Kalmar and the Grant Park Orchestra accompanying him in a live performance of his 2008 album “The Mandé Variations” (Nonesuch). (Dennis Polkow)
August 11, 6:30pm, Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, (312)742-7638. Free.
Dennis Polkow is an award-winning veteran journalist, critic, author, broadcaster and educator. He made his stage debut at age five, was a child art prodigy and began playing keyboards in clubs at the age of fourteen. He holds degrees in music theory, composition, religious studies and philosophy from DePaul University in Chicago. Polkow spent his early years performing and recording in rock and jazz bands while concertizing as a classical pianist, organist and harpsichordist and composing, arranging and producing for other artists. As a scholar, Polkow has published and lectured extensively and taught at several colleges and universities in various departments. As an actor, narrator and consultant, Polkow has been involved with numerous films, plays, broadcasts and documentaries. As a journalist, Polkow helped co-create the experiential Chicago Musicale and Spotlight, the award-winning tabloid arts and entertainment section of the Press Publications chain of newspapers, which he later edited. He also created and ran the nationally recognized journalism program at Oakton College and was faculty advisor to its award-winning student newspaper; many former students went on to major media careers, including Channel Awesome’s the Nostalgia Critic. Polkow’s research, interviews, features, reviews and commentaries have appeared across national and international media and he has corresponded from the Middle East, Asia and Africa for the Chicago Tribune. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org