PORTLAND – 2009 Grammy Award nominee Toumani Diabate, the self-taught grand prince of the 21-stringed west African harp called the kora, will bring his 10-piece Symmetric Orchestra to Merrill Auditorium Friday, May 1, for an evening of pan-African and global music-making.

The 8 p.m. concert is being presented by PCA Great Performances as part of its seasonlong “Maine and Its Ties to Africa” series of performances and community events. Diabate, widely acknowledged as the world’s most masterful kora player, reunites the ancient Malian Mandinka Empire through the music of his pan-African Symmetric Orchestra. Featuring musicians from Mali, Senegal, Guinea, the Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso on a wide range of traditional and contemporary instruments, Diabate and his bandmates serve up a joyful sound that draws on traditions from ancient griot songs to salsa, jazz, flamenco and the blues.

Both a traditionalist and an ardent experimenter, Diabate has collaborated with artists as diverse as the late Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure, Icelandic songstress Bjork and American bluesman Taj Mahal.

Diabate’s most recent recording, a solo acoustic outing titled “The Mande Variations,” earned the Malian music master a 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Recording.

PCA Offstage will present three free community-based events tied to the May 1 performance. The first event, “Africa: A Continent of Diversity through Arts and Artifacts,” is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 28, at the Museum of African Culture, 13 Brown St. Museum founder and director Oscar Mokeme will lead a tour of the museum, the only institution in northern New England devoted exclusively to celebrating sub-Saharan African arts and culture. Following the museum tour, attendees will walk a short distance to the Maine Historical Society on Congress Street for a lecture-discussion on African artistic expression.

On Thursday April 30, there will be a meet-the-artist session with Diabate at Bull Moose, 151 Middle St. Diabate will present a brief in-store solo performance at 5:30 p.m.

PCA Offstage will also offer a free, preperformance lecture/demonstration at 6:30 p.m. prior to the Friday evening concert. Maine-based musician, kora player and student of African culture Grey Parrot and other musicians will share and discuss the sounds of the kora and other African instruments.

Concert tickets are $40, $35 and $32. They may be purchased through PortTix, the box office at Merrill Auditorium; by calling 842-0800; and at www.pcagreatperformances.org.


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