Zani Diabate was the first musical super hero I met. The bandleader and ace guitarist, who passed away in Paris last year while recording his final album, often wore a dark beret with an enamel brooch of Superman pinned to it. When I asked him if he was Superman during an interview many years ago, he replied: "No, it's not Superman. It's Super Zani."
Zani Diabate and the Super Djata Band. — photo by John Clewley
It was 1988 and Diabate was about to play his first Tokyo shows, bringing his unique brand of Malian music to Asia for the first time. In fact, Diabate was one of the first Malian musicians to ride the first wave of the "World music" boom that began in the early 1980s. Salif Keita and Ali Farka Toure had already begun the process _ Keita with his haunting Malinke-based music and Toure with his vast repertoire of northern Malian music _ but Diabate, ably backed by his Super Djata Band brought music that was rhythmically harder, more danceable. It also featured Zani's amazing psychedelic guitar playing.
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