tue 23/07/2024

Album: Ballaké Sissoko - Djourou | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Ballaké Sissoko - Djourou

Album: Ballaké Sissoko - Djourou

Scintillating collaborations from a master of the kora

Ballaké Sissoko is one of the greatest musicians in Africa – a kora player of extraordinary quality, strongly rooted in the Manding and family traditions that have nourished him. He’s also a born collaborator, with a sense of adventure that has resulted in very fruitful performances and recordings with musicians from his own culture as well as others from further afield.

His relationship with the French label No Format has been immensely fruitful, not least the two now classic albums with the French cellist Vincent Ségal – Chamber Music (2009) and Musique de Nuit (2015). His latest release includes Ségal once again, along with amazing clarinet-playing from Patrick Messina riffing on the music of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. There are magnificently soulful and low-key duets with Malian-French rapper Oxmo Puccino, Salif Keita, one of the great voices of West Africa, the kora player Sona Jobarteh and the singer-songwriter Piers Faccini, who’s just released an equally original album of inspired collaborations, Shapes of the Fall, also with No Format.

What has always distinguished Ballaké has been his mixture of peerless musicianship and cool modesty – the "coolness" here being the quality of spiritually-aligned holding back that lies at the core of African aesthetics. With Ballaké, less is always more, but each note played on his 21-string "harp-lute" plays a part in creating the magical and fluid sound that has caused the kora to be regarded as an instrument that calls into presence the spirit world as well as making the listener open to healing. The versatile singer Camille joins in on a quiet and half-whispered praise-song for Ballaké’s instrument, playing with the correspondence between the French word “corps" (body) and the kora. The delicacy of her singing is a perfect match for the Malian’s crystalline strings.

These creative collaborations were facilitated by Laurent Bizot, founder of No Format, who encouraged the musicians to find a spontaneous common language. Most work wonderfully, although the longer track with the brilliant and eccentric group Feu! Chatterton fails to conjure the same remarkable sense of a partnership in which the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The special quality of this album reflects Ballaké Sissoko’s ability to be fully present without ever taking centre stage. Even on his two solo tracks, he never allows his undoubted virtuosity to shine too brightly, but puts his outstanding technique and flair at the service of something that goes beyond ego, and creates music with the power to transmute body and soul.


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