CD: Ballaké Sissoko - At Peace | New music reviews, news & interviews
CD: Ballaké Sissoko - At Peace
Malian kora virtuoso offers a serene remedy to the turbulent events in his homeland
Toumani Diabaté is the uncontested star of the Malian kora, but his Bamako neighbour Ballaké Sissoko is a close rival. His natural modesty, reflected in the coolness of his musicianship, has prevented him from acquiring the international status of Diabaté, but what he lacks in worldly ambition is amply compensated by an unassuming yet heart-warming spirituality.
At Peace is in some ways a sequel to Chamber Music, the award-winning album Sissoko made with the versatile French cellist Vincent Ségal. Ségal, the producer of the new CD, has avoided merely serving up Vol. 2. This time around, the kora player is the main focus although, in the spirit of African musical aesthetics, there is much ensemble playing, in which solo work offers a sensitive response to others in the group. There are three exquisite solo tracks, “Maimouna”, “Nalésonko” and “Kalanso”, but on the others Sissoko is joined by Badian Diabate (12-string guitar), Aboubacar Diabaté (guitar) and Fasséry Diabate (balafon). Ségal adds a few atmospheric washes of cello, never seeking to dominate.
As the CD’s title implies, and in the spirit of Chamber Music, which delivered effortless serenity, this is a calm and reflective album, the perfect antidote to the turmoil that has swept through Mali and all but silenced the country’s music. The quality of the recording – made in a cosy Angoulême studio – is exceptional, and the intricate texture of the assembled strings, a cascade of almost liquid lacework, is captured with immediacy. Perhaps not surprisingly the album’s highpoint, “N’tomikorobougou”, was recorded at night in the courtyard of Sissoko’s Bamako compound. The piece features entrancing interplay between peals of kora counterpoint and harmonic-rich 12-string guitar, set delicately against the hypnotic chirping of crickets. This is music that makes it feel very good to be alive.
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