Archive for the ‘Taj Mahal’ Category

Spike Driver Blues: Ramata Diakite

May 9, 2014

Ramata Diakite

edited from

Taj Mahal’s 1999 CD “Kulanjan” features this version of Mississippi John Hurt’s “Spike Driver’s Blues” (the original is included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music.)  Malian musicians Toumani Diabite, Ballake Sissoko, Bassekou Kouyate, and Ramata Diakite join him on this song to create a sublime fusion of Mississippi, Manding, and Wassoulou musical sensibilities.

Taj writes that in the studio he “begins to play a blues number and the Malians instinctively fall in with him.”  Of particular note are the gorgeous improvised vocals of the late Ramata Diakite.  With no prior exposure to the song, Ramata creates a haunting melody that takes the song to a completely new level.

During a weeklong session in an Athens, Georgia, home, Mahal and Diabate, plus a small Malian string band, achieved an unusually relaxed collaboration. Mahal’s finger-picking acoustic guitar, thick rust-bucket vocals and simmering sense of tempo bring a languid, sensual air. Diabate dials down his lightning-quick, aggressive tone slightly, so that he embroiders the songs — a mix of Malian and blues traditionals – rather than running away with them.

A jam-session informality prevails, from the quiet trio intimacy of “Mississippi-Mali Blues” to the jovial, Cajun-style “Fanta Sacko,” with Lasana Diabate prancing on the xylophone-like balafon. Cultural exchanges don’t sound more organic or revelatory than “Ol’ Georgie Buck,” which melts a spirited Southern dance tune into a hand-clapping thirteenth-century Malian groove; Mahal grunts along to a driving six-string hunter’s harp and mutters approval as Diabate does a little dancing of his own on the kora. The West African vocalists nearly steal the show, particularly Ramata Diakite, whose voice just about breaks Mahal’s heart as she floats through “Queen Bee” and “Take This Hammer.”

Taj Mahal and friends play “Take This Hammer (Spike Driver Blues)”:


Here is a glimpse of Ramata Diakite in a more familiar Wassoulou musical element:


Georgia Buck

January 12, 2013


edited from liner notes to “Kulanjan”(Hannibal CD 1444) by Lucy Duran and Taj Mahal:

When he was 19, and she was 67, Taj Mahal learned this old banjo dance tune (“Georgie Buck”) from Elizabeth Cotten.  During the recording of the CD “Kulanjan” he played it to the Malian musicians who were recording with him, then put down his guitar, and they started to play their own version based around the 6-string hunter’s harp [kamalengoni, see above].

This may be as close as one gets to how the blues once sounded–long before even the wax-cylinder recordings at the turn of the century–but it’s also unquestionable contemporary.  As Taj declared after the last notes of “Ol’ Georgie Buck” faded, “That’s five centuries there, the music just went around in a big ring.”

“To complete a cycle, to return to the intact original, to have been visited by very powerful visions of ancestors and their music, to realize the dream my father and mother had along with many other generations of Africans who now live outside of the continent of Africa.”

Taj Mahal, Ballake Sissoko, Dougouye Koulibaly, and Bassekou Kouyate play “Ol’ Georgie Buck”: