by David Rogers
Published in Jumbie Journal, December 2004 Issue
Out of Guinea (West Africa) and living in Marseilles, France, this quartet pours forth an intoxicating brew steeped both in both Mande tradition and new influences from Bob Marley to Jimi Hendrix. If you have not yet heard a kora (mande harp) played through a wa-wa pedal you are in for a treat with their new album "Sabolan." Ba Cissoko is a family band of young cousins and brothers from a Guinean griot family, trained by kora master M'bady Kouyaté before they left Conakry for France.
This is intensely danceable music, with rhythms that range from the driving electric groove of the joyous opener "Dandala" and dueling kora solos of "Wawata," to the relaxed reggae beats of "Taouyah" and "Likhirin"--a salute to the band's new home whose Arabic refrain intones "Salam aleikhum Marseille." Throughout, the propulsive bass of Kourou Kouyaté is matched by the sparkling djembe touch of percussionist Ibrahima "Kounkouré" Ba (particularly in his eponymous feature "Kounkouré.")
The groove is matched by an infectious sense of melody throughout, that owes as much to Western pop music's catchy hooks as to their rich Guinean traditions. The sound of the kora's ranges from cleanly acoustic, to pulsing wa-wa pedals, to the distortion-saturated opening of the title track "Sabolan" where the driving riffs sounds more like Metallica than Jimi Hendrix. The innovative approach to this traditional instrument is perhaps most mesmerizing in the almost trippy "Yélé" as the young Sekou Kouyaté's swirling kora lines seem to spiral upward over the tune's laid-back funky bass line and unusual suspended harmonies.
This is not just an album full of great solos and amazing instrumental breaks, however. The blissful melody of "Maïmouna" draws you in gently into this adaptation of an old Mandingo epic. Three other traditional pieces - "Mamaya," "Djeli," and "Manssani"-will lay to rest any questions of whether these youngsters mastered the old traditions first before going on to experiment with modern sounds. The first two are instrumental features, but on "Manssani" Ba Cissoko's (the eldest member and namesake of the youthful quartet) crooning voice brings warmth to the traditional song. It's a voice that adds vitality and urgency to the uptempo pieces on this CD, but is most resonantly effective in the gentle ballads. On his ode to his mother, "Saï," Ba seems to sing a gentle lullaby both to his own mother and all the mothers of the world.
Ba Cissoko's "Sabolan" is from Marabi Productions.
You can listen to samples and buy it at: CD roots
Or buy single-song downloads at: Calabash Music