Afrocubism goes on tour

Robin Denselow, writing for London’s Guardian, reviews the Cuban/Malian group’s performance at the Barbican.

When this project was conceived 14 years ago, the idea was bold yet simple: the Malian guitarist Djelimady Tounkara and n’goni virtuoso Bassekou Kouyate would travel to Cuba to work with local musicians. The Africans failed to arrive, and the resulting (mostly Cuban) session became the hugely successful Buena Vista Social Club. Now, the original plan has been revived. Several of the musicians involved are now celebrities, making AfroCubism a world music supergroup.

Their debut UK concert was a joyous, classy, historic affair that almost did justice to the extraordinary lineup, of which at least four of the artists alone could have packed out the hall. The Malian contingent wore long coloured robes, with Tounkara and Kouyate joined by the remarkable kora exponent Toumani Diabaté, the fine singer Kassé Mady Diabaté, and Lassana Diabaté, an exponent of the west African xylophone, the balafon. Playing alongside them was the Cuban singer, guitarist and Buena Vista star Eliades Ochoa, dressed in black and wearing a cowboy hat, with his red-shirted band Grupo Patria adding percussion and brass.

The mood was set by the opening Mali Cuba, an instrumental written by Toumani, which provided a reminder that Malians adore Cuban music – many went to study there after independence – and allowed solos from all the celebrities. Next, the band switched to Mali’s griot tradition, with sturdy singing from Kassé Mady, who then swapped vocals with Ochoa on a song in the eastern Cuban guajira style before Tounkara showed off his impressive electric guitar work on Djelimady Rumba.

It was a magnificent set, but could have included even more from Tounkara and Toumani, who provided one of the highpoints of the evening by matching his kora against Kouyate’s n’goni and Ochoa’s guitar for a gloriously delicate acoustic reworking of Guantanamera.

For the original report go to

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