Review: Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal “Chamber Music”

The moods and colors of Malian kora virtuoso Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal’s “Chamber Music” are as delicate and intricate as one’s favorite fusion cuisine. In a strikingly seamless manner the two string musicians from very different cultures have recorded music that touches and replenishes the spirit and soul. Recorded in three sessions at Salif Keita’s Studio Mouffou in Bamako it is a testament to beauty in simplicity. No overdubs were used, and most of the tracks feature only Sissoko and Ségal.

Hailing from a long tradition of Malian kora players, Sissoko has worked with renowned musicians such as Toumani Diabaté and Taj Mahal. He met the French born Ségal by chance, and the two began jamming together, uncertain of what kind of music might result. As a former member of the French National Orchestra, Segal’s Western classical training does not prevent him from exploring a wide variety of extended techniques, rendering his cello a flexible partner to Sissoko’s kora.[1] A childhood spent in the Pigalle district of Paris surrounded by immigrant communities exposed Segal to African music from an early age. As such, he possesses a natural sensitivity to Sissoko’s West-African style.[2]

This remarkable openness and fluidity flows through Chamber Music, with each musician contributing individual compositions in addition to collaborating on an overall sonic venture. One is swept away on their journey, one which gives many moments for pause and quiet on “Chamber Music” as if time has slowed and one can savor the moment. ‘Mako Mady’ is such a song, with the deep and rich timbre of Segal’s cello overlayed by Sissoko’s dancing kora strings. There’s also a joy to this recording, as if spring is just bubbling up. ‘Ma-Ma FC’ captures the simple essence of such feelings with its loping rhythm and intricate interplay. The sole vocal song, ‘Regret – À Kader Barry’ with Awa Sangho on vocals is imbued with depth and relection, even without knowing the lyric’s meaning. The title track ‘Chamber Music’ is a near perfect melding of instruments, with Segal defining the composition, joined by Sissoko’s weaving textures.

There is a spirt of Africa that imbues “Chamber Music” in a very subtle way, a timelessness and calm of places untouched by the flurry of modernity. A romantic notion perhaps but this is a deeply romantic recording. Not since Kronos Quartet’s “Pieces of Africa” has classical chamber music so seamlessly melded with African traditions. — John C. Tripp

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Free Download – “Chamber Music”

Sample Song

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