Rail Band's lead guitarist, Djelimady Tounkara

In the years since, Djelimady Tounkara's name has become synonymous with the Rail Band. He has seen the band through a quarter century of colorful history and constant change.

 Photo of Djelimady Tounkara The Rail Band's most recent album, Mansa (Indigo/Sterns), was recorded last year in France under the direction of blind keyboardist and producer of many great African records, Jean Phillipe Rykiel. Mansa presents the full variety of the Rail Band's extraordinary repertoire, from deep Malian tradition to flirtations with blues, jazz and Zairean music. In addition, a classic, early recording of the Rail Band with Salif Keita and Mory Kante have just been reissued by Melodie and are available through Cora Connection's music catalog.

Earlier this year, the Super Rail Band, as they are now known, severed its relationship with the national railroad and became in effect a private band. The Rail Band has never played in the United States, but now that the group's career is increasingly directed at the international audience, there is reason to hope that someday they will.

All his adult life, Djelimady has worked to transform his ancestral traditions into dance pop. But at the same time, he has continued to work in more traditional contexts, backing the great griot singers of Mali on records, in concerts and at the day-long wedding and baptism celebrations that are the modern griot's life blood. In recent years, Djelimady has performed in an acoustic trio called Bajourou, accompanied by another masterful griot guitarist, Bouba Sacko, and by singer Lafia Diabate, a veteran of the Rail Band. Bajourou has released one excellent record, Big String Theory (Xenophile), and plans to record another one later this year.

 Banning Eyre September 1996

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