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Ballaké Sissoko

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Review by Mike Adcock


Hot on the heels of his collaboration with singer and guitarist David Walters comes a new release under his own name from kora-player Ballaké Sissoko, though the album has been in the making since 2018. Djourou is also a collaboration, with eight different artists, each making a single track appearance. Sissoko opens proceedings with a solo piece, "Demba Kunda" which begins with a single note chiming out three times, building from there to a tapestry of tumbling melodic patterns so characteristic of his instrument. There are only two solo offerings on the album, the other being the glorious "Mande Tabolo," light of touch but full of passion.

Listen "Mande Tabolo"

On the title track Sissoko is joined by another kora-player, Sona Jobarteh from The Gambia, the first woman from her griot tradition to play the instrument professionally. Djourou is a Bambara word meaning string, an apt title for a duo sharing forty-two strings between them. As an album title it has a more metaphorical meaning for Sissoko, suggesting the musical thread running between the diverse artists involved.

Initially the shifting of personnel from track to track can feel somewhat unsettling, but on repeated listening this ceases to be an issue, everyone at the party sitting comfortably together, with Sissoko the common thread running through a series of well matched conversations. Only on a couple of tracks is there a sense of him adopting the subordinate (albeit effective) role of accompanist, when the lyrical content of his guest becomes paramount.

Listen "Jeu sur La Symphonie Fantastique"

Cellist Vincent Segal, who has worked with Sissoko on various recording projects including David Walters' Nocturne, appears on "Jeu sur la Symphonie Fantastique" with clarinettist Patrick Messina. The piece is exactly as described in the title, a radically scaled-down take on the Berlioz orchestral work, improvising on its main theme. "Guelen" features none less than the great Salif Keita, probably Mali's most successful musical legend, and it's a treat to hear his magnificent singing in this pared down setting.


"Kora" features French singer Camille. She sings in a hushed tone in praise of the instrument being played alongside her, the two performers augmented by a small string section.


Malian hip-hop artist Oxmo Puccino's "Frotter les mains" addresses our need for human contact, a timeless call but certainly one pertinent today and possibly a response to the current pandemic.

Listen Kadidja (excerpt)

"Kadidja" features British singer Piers Faccini, singing here in French. This is one of the highlights of a very good album. The voice and kora work together superbly, with Sissoko duplicating in part the melodic line of Faccini's song. The album finishes with "Un vętement pour la lune." Here Feu! Chatterton vocalist Arthur Tebou develops his vocal from poetic recitation to song.

With all its varied artists and influences, Djourou is an assortment of delights.

Further Reading:
David Walters Nocturne
3MA Anarouz
Bará Bolo Saba
Boubacar Traoré Mbalimaou

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