Daby’s story goes back two generations and has a fairy tale beginning. Once upon a time, there were four brothers who lived in a village near Kayes, in what is now the modern state of Mali.
They were all shoemakers and leather workers and they strived to sustain the old traditional family trade by turning the skins of crocodiles from the nearby river into shoes, bags, pouches and wallets. But for some reason, perhaps drought or excessive hunting, the crocodile population began to fall dramatically and the family were no longer able to live from their craft. The brothers decided to disperse to the four winds and they never saw each other again. One of them, Daby Toure, went to live near Zinguinchor in Casamance, the southernmost province of Senegal, where he married four wives and produced a large brood of children. For reasons that no one has ever been able to really explain, this new Toure generation was touched by a deep love and gift for music. A younger member of the clan, Hamidou Toure, was brought up by an uncle up north in Mauritania. Once he had graduated as a doctor in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott, he was sent to a sand blown desert town called Boutilimit, where he married a beautiful woman, who was half Moorish or Hassaniya and half Toucouleur. They gave birth to a son who they called Daby, in honour of his grandfather, the patriarch of the family.
Mauritania is situated on the fault line between Moorish North Africa and sub-Saharan black Africa. As you travel south from its northern border with Morocco, the unrelenting lifelessness of the deep desert cross fades into the dry bushy scrubland of the ‘coast’ or sahel, as the Arabs used to call it, of the southern grasslands and forests. A big river, the Senegal, marks the southern boundary of this modern nation state. Although the lighter skinned Moors have always held political and social power in the country, more than half the population belong to black ethnic groups; Toucouleur, Fulbe, Soninke and Wolof. The country always lived comfortably with its own ethnic and cultural diversity, until the late 1980s, when dark forces disturbed this harmony and bitter inter-ethnic conflict held sway for a while.
Daby grew up in Boutilimit, Nouakchott, and Casmance before going to live with an uncle in the village of Djeole, near Kaedi, on the banks of the Senegal river. His parents had divorced, and Daby’s father couldn’t be seen to be raising young children on his own. In Djeole, Daby soaked up the language, culture and music of his Soninke people, as well as those of the neighbouring Toucouleur and Wolof. He learned all about farming and cattle rearing. It was a secure village childhood. ‘With hindsight, I think the times I spent in the village were the most important in my life, because that’s where I was forged,’ Daby remembers. In the black velvet warmth of the night, he would get together with friends to bang out rhythms on old tins, canisters and cardboard boxes and entertain the village. And when diversion was required at henna and wedding feasts, Daby and his mates would often be sent for.
Later, Daby moved back to the capital Nouakchott to live with his father. After a tiring day at the hospital, Hamidou would often relax by playing music with his friends. Daby wasn’t allowed to touch the guitars, because his father did not want him to develop any crazy ideas about becoming a musician. But he stole time on the instruments anyway and taught himself the basics. He also began discovering the exotic joys of western pop music, thanks to radio, pirated cassettes and the occasional TV broadcast. The Police, Dire Straights, Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson were powerful formative influences. Although a deep fascination and hunger for music was developing in the teenager, Daby’s father continued to insist that music was not a career option for a any well brought-up young man. ‘In Mauritania, the profession of musician doesn’t really exist,’ explains Daby. ‘A profession is something you train for and get a diploma. My father was more fearful for me than anything else, because he knew what a musician’s life consisted of and for him it wasn’t a future.’
In 1989, political unrest and inter-ethnic conflict was making life in Mauritania very difficult, so when Hamidou received an invitation from his younger brothers Sixu and Ismael to join their group Toure Kunda, although at first he hesitated, the offer seemed too good to refuse. He sold his house to pay for his son to come along with him. The rich musical life of Paris was a magical revelation to the eighteen-year-old Daby, and although his father continued to brow-beat him about his studies, music slowly became his whole life. He began to play little gigs in bars and college parties with rock and cover bands. After he finally gave up his course at Business School, despite his father’s objections, and went to live in an African hostel or foyer in Paris, Daby teamed up with his cousin Omar and formed Toure Toure; the two ‘Toures’. They began to explore the vivid common frontiers of jazz and African music.
A meeting with Jean-Pierre Como, the keyboard player with established avant-jazz-fusionists Sixun, kick-started a chain-reaction which lead to a record deal with French independent label Pygmalion Records and the release of Toure Toure’s one and only album ‘Ladde’. The Sixun connection opened up the doors to the bubbling Parisian jazz scene, with its open-mindedness and vitality, and Daby fell in love with bands like Weather Report, Joe Zawinul and Pat Metheny. It was their originality and artistry that fascinated him above all else. Despite the fact that ‘Ladde’ was very well received in France and Toure Toure played hundreds of concerts all over the country, as well as further a-field in Canada and Brazil, Daby felt dissatisfied with the band’s progress. It seemed that the industry, the media and audiences were only interested in the roots, African and dance band aspects of the group.
‘The music that I play is based on exploration, on original compositions. It’s like a painter who gets up to paint a painting. I get up in the morning, I pick up my guitar and I start working. I don’t know where I’m going but I go.’
Daby locked himself away in his room, with his own home-studio and equipment and began to write and arrange songs. He controlled every aspect of the creative process, from composition, to arrangements, to performance and mixing. That was important. Daby was in pursuit of a very individual musical vision, and he needed the time, space and solitude to make it a reality.
After several years hard work, Daby teamed up with electronic musician and digital wizard Cyrille Dufay to develop the sound further. The result of all this experimentation, exploration and hard graft is ‘Diam’.
The songs on the album tell of Daby’s life, of the people around him and of the world in general. He sings of relationships, his family, freedom and, above all, of being positive when times are hard. It is perfectly fitting then that the title, ‘Diam’, means peace, something that Daby has looked for throughout his life.
It is because Daby is sure of where he comes from that he can move forward without fear.