Rocking the Kora: Diali Cissokho & Kaira Blend West African Traditions With Modern Sounds
Diali Cissokho & Kaira bring their transfixing West African groove — an electric mix of traditions and modern sounds — to Asheville’s Altamont Theater April 30.
Combining passionate originality and fierce authenticity, Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba take West African dance music into new territory—literally, the North Carolina Piedmont. That’s where Cissokho, a griot born to a family of professional musicians in Senegal, makes his transplanted home.
The repertoire is pure Manding, the centuries-old musical culture of Cissokho’s ancestors. It’s reformulated with modernizing impulses in a rock band format: Agile basslines interweave with the melodic twins of kora and electric guitar, undergirded by an explosive rhythm section of djembe and trapset drums. Kora master Cissokho is also the group’s vocal frontman. His electrifying voice propels songs old and new about timeless themes of mythology, migration and universal love. Irrepressible dance grooves, serpentine guitar work, and Cissokho’s soulful vocals and kora playing illuminate stories of ancient West Africa in a globalizing world. In fact, “universal love” is a rough translation of “Kaira Ba,” a promise the band communicates live.
The result of this cross-continental collaboration is a fresh and exhilarating musical experience.
The kora itself, a jumbo spike-lute with skin-and-gourd resonator, is handed down within families in West Africa. There, it represents a hereditary musical tradition of moral and spiritual gravitas. Diali Cissokho maintains this heritage while walking his own path, playing with youthful fire and acrobatic effect. The band is rounded out by four outstanding North Carolina musicians – Jonathan Henderson, Austin McCall, Will Ridenour, and John Westmoreland, each bringing the their own musical influences to bear.
As a result, Kaira Ba has enjoyed a meteoric rise in its first two years of existence. In 2012, the band recorded Resonance, a shimmering studio album that captures all the drive and intensity of its live performances. The band has quickly become a hot ticket at festivals, museums and music venues across the Eastern U.S., touring as far afield as New York City and Senegal. Wherever they play, Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba summon audiences to the dancefloor with a bonanza of euphoric West African grooves, all inflected with funk, soul, rock and music of the Black Diaspora.