Ballake Sissoko album review: ‘At Peace’


Ballake Sissoko (left) and Vincent Segal. Image provided by Press Junkie PR. (Image courtesy of Ballake Sissoko)
February 28, 2013
BALLAKE SISSOKO
“At Peace”

Kindred spirits: Jali Nyama Suso,
Ali Farka Toure, Toumani Diabate

Show: With Vincent Segal on Friday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center. Show starts
at 8 p.m. 202-399-7993. www.atlasarts.org. $15-$28.

Ballake Sissoko opens his new album, “At Peace,” with “Maimouna,” his solo showcase for the kora, the West African harp with 21 strings rising vertically from a huge calabash gourd. For those unfamiliar with the instrument, its broad range, sparkling tone and shimmering effects are vividly displayed here. For those who do know the kora, Sissoko is a virtuoso who can run through a blur of speeding notes and then brake for a crisply articulated theme. On this piece, Sissoko repeats the same descending figure, but with the melodic path and rhythmic organization slightly altered each time.

On the second track, “Boubalaka,” Sissoko is joined by fellow Malian Abouba­car “Badian” Diabate on the 12-string guitar. In the give and take of this instrumental dialogue, one can hear the close relationship between Africa’s kora and its European cousin. On “Badjourou,” the two are joined by guitarist Moussa Diabate, balafonist Fassery Diabate and cellist Vincent Segal. The result is a kind of intercontinental chamber music, in which the five men play with and against each other.

Segal produced “At Peace” in France, but his cello appears on only four tracks. There are two more solo kora pieces and another duet with the 12-string guitar. The latter, “N’Tomikorobougou,” was recorded in the courtyard of Sissoko’s home in Mali, the quick-fingered improvisations establishing a small sanctuary at peace within the war-torn country.

Geoffrey Himes

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