Taj Mahal and Toumani Diabate Kulanjan

It sounds like an experiment in cross-cultural collaboration, this dialogue between Delta blues and West African music based on the 21-stringed kora, but it sounds nothing like an experiment, which is a manifestly good thing. Taj Mahal has always been one of the most eccentric of contemporary blues artists, with his sights fixed beyond the smoky barroom and roadhouse circuits. His songs grounded in the conceit that while his blues may have been born in the Delta, their ancestry goes several centuries further back than that. Which is to say that this outing with kora master Toumani Diabate is not that great a stretch for Taj Mahal — a logical and perhaps necessary destination for his musicological excursions might be more like it. While they don’t exactly create a new hybrid that meets the blues and West African traditions precisely halfway, Taj and Toumani are in sync with each other throughout Kulanjan. Whether Taj holds court with a Delta moaner tinged with bittersweet tones by the kora or they add some indigo moods to a languid air from Toumani’s repertoire. All of which just proves their point, although not for the first time — that the blues actually have their roots before the middle passage. (Hannibal)