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ALBUM REVIEWS Marvels from Mali

TONY BURKE recommends recent releases from the epicentre of kora music and desert blues

TWO years in the making, Ballake Sissoko’s Djourou (**** No Format) draws together solo compositions alongside collaborations with a number of artists including Salif Keita, leading female kora player Sona Jobarteh, cellist Vincent Segal, French rapper Oxmo Puccino, singer-songwriter Piers Faccini and Arthur Teboul, the singer from Paris rock band Feu! Chatterton.

Djourou is the Bambara word meaning string and the kora has 21 of them. The string here refers to the connection with the artists who appear on the album.

It’s a wonderful blend of kora pieces with guest artists, notably Vincent Segal and Patrick Messina on clarinet teaming up with Sissoko for an epic journey on Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

Samba Toure plays Songhoy music — desert blues — and Binga (**** Glitterbeat Records) features a stripped-down combo of guitar, ngoni, calabash, percussion and harmonica which gives the album that primitive blues feel with mesmerising guitar riffs.

Toure sings about the realities of life in Mali from “one coup d’etat to another, from one rebellion to another, from one inter-ethnic massacre to another, nothing has changed.”

Yet Sambalama hopes for better days to come while Kola Cisse is a praise-song in memory of the late head of the Malian Football Federation. Two Songhoy pieces, Tamala and Terey Kongo,  celebrate the history of the Songhoy people.

On Korolen (**** World Circuit), the great Malian kora and desert-blues player Toumani Diabate fronted the London Symohony Orchestra  at London’s Barbican Centre for this album.

Its title translates as “ancestral,” fitting for an album which brings together ancient griot sounds and Western arrangements, resulting in dreamlike, timeless music — as Diabate has said, this music is older than Beethoven.

It’s the first time that the kora has fronted a full symphony orchestra and Toumani is joined by Malian guitarist Fanta Mady Kouyate, balafon player Lassana Diabate, singer Kasse Mady, ngoni player Ganda Tounkara and percussionist Fode Kouyate on calabash and tama.

It’s groundbreaking stuff.

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