Soundtrack to my life: Afro-pop star Sidiki Diabate’s journey through adversity and joy

From the vintage pop of Michael Jackson to a heart rending ballet by Celine Dion, young Malian star Sidiki Diabaté tells us about his musical influences

Caption: Sidike Diabate performs at the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco.  Courtesy: Hakim Joundy
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For Sidike Diabate it wasn't really a choice. The 26-year-old Malian star represents the 71st generation of musicians who play the West African stringed instrument the kora. However, in his hands, Diabate managed to merge the rugged sound of the instrument with effervescent Afro-pop and, in turn, update it for a new generation. He takes us through the songs that affected his life.

A song that reminds me of my childhood: 'Beat It' by Michael Jackson (1982)

I am around 10 years old and I am in the family home in Bamako [capital of Mali]. So this means the song was already about a decade old at the time. I first saw it on television and I was just amazed by the whole thing. What I loved about the song is that there are some African rhythms and beats in there that I could hear. Also to see an African-American like Michael Jackson being such a star felt special and inspiring to me.

 A song that made me want to perform: 'Kaira' by Sidike Diabate (traditional) 

This is an old song my dad [also named Sidike Diabate] would play that made me fall in love with the kora. I am from a long line of family members playing this instrument and my father bought me my first one when I was a child. When I heard this song it really made me listen to what the kora can do. When it is played well it can give you this immense spiritual feeling. This song gave me that and it made me want do that for others.

A song that changed my career: 'Ignanafi Debena' by Sidiki Diabate (2006)

This is the song that gave me my music career and I have other people to thank. When I was a teenager I would play the kora and sing other people’s songs. But it was my mother who encouraged, even challenged me, to write my own. So as a result I wrote this song and then a close friend heard it and said I should spread it around. Well, while I was thinking about it he did that anyway and gave it to the radio stations and it became a hit. I have been working on my career ever since.

A song that makes me cry: 'My Heart Will Go On' by Celine Dion (1997)

When I was around 10 I got involved in a car accident and I lost a finger. I was depressed and my father would put on the video of this song and I remember I would just cry whenever I would hear it. This song reminds me of that sad time because I felt like an outcast and I spent nearly a decade at home as result. It reminds of me of that difficult time and ultimately how I overcame it.

A song that always makes me smile: 'Lampedusa' by Toumani and Sidiki Diabate (2014)

This is another song by my father that me and my brother Toumani play when we perform and tour together. It makes me feel happy because it reminds me of the joy I always share when playing with him as well as realising all the things my father taught me.

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