by Raul Rothblatt
from Jumbie Journal, December 2004
I had a lot of great times when I was in Guinea last year, but one night stands out: April 13, 2003. That's the night I convinced my friends Saadet and Mamadou to each travel 30 kilometers to an unknown music club with me to hear the band Ba Cissoko.
I knew I had to go because my good friend and collaborator Sylvain Leroux would be there, and because was leaving Guinea and I had to say goodbye. What I didn't know was who was going to play, or, uh, where exactly the venue was…
So somehow we found the venue, and luckily it's an outdoors courtyard space with a stage protected by a thatched roof. (Most nightclubs in Guinea have great music, but are indoors and don't really have ventilation.) As usual, we're the only white folk there (well, Saadet's not white. She is of Turkestani roots, grew up in Turkey and has been living in Zurich for 20 years, and she is worthy of a couple issues of the Jumbie Journal....).
Saadet and Sylvain
Then the band starts playing, and I could not believe my ears. I had met some of the band members through Sylvain - we had run into each other at an instrument builder's shop and at Conakry's hippest restaurant, and they just seemed like nice kids. I knew they were from a super prestigious kora playing family. But they were doing this wild classical Mande music meets Jimi Hendrix thing. I had never seen a kora played with a wawa pedal, but this was not a novelty act. You could instantly tell they were serious musicians when the djembe player knew how to play quietly. Djembe players are not known for their subtle dynamics.
But Sylvain was dancing like a madman. He was doing things with his flute that are not allowed in polite company. He was on fire on stage and off. Before long we were all dancing.
Sylvain jams with Ba Cissoko
So these kora playing "kids," the Cissokos, are in their 20s. But then the younger kids came out. The teenagers were doing rap and reggae, and it had the same amazing vibe.
I constantly feel like I have to justify the mission of Jumbie and tell people that you CAN be innovative and traditional at the same time. But I knew seeing the new Cissoko generation that it's possible. Okay, I have to get a little corny, but hearing them play gave me more hope for humanity. Humans can be pretty petty pathetic creatures, but we're also capable of great beauty. And that beauty will always be reinvented by every generation in every city.