On his new album Rhythm of the Griot, Senegalese exponent of the musical / oratory tradition, Diabel Cissokho, goes in search of the blues. Its source is definitely somewhere in Africa. Go listen to Ali Farka Toure and you’d be hard pushed to argue that its roots lie anywhere but Mali.
Cissokho divides his playing between 6-string guitar, and 21-string kora. Sometimes alone. Sometimes in the context of a band. Both instruments mic`d so intimately that if you close your eyes you can see his fingers. Both handled with such mastery that sometimes its hard to know which is which. Mixing the musics of Mali. Matching the dexterity of Ngoni maestro, Bassekou Kouyate, with the energy of Baba commandant, from neighbouring Burkina Faso. In places introducing a Tuareg twang – from the Sub-Saharan north – to both vocals and tunings. But Cissokho`s musical influences aren’t limited to West Africa. Having travelled the globe, touring and collaborating with the likes of Damon Albarn, Femi Kuti, Baaba Maal, Paul McCartney and Sinead O`Connor. The late great nyatiti player Ayub Ogada – from Kenya in the east – is also invoked. The fusion-esque bass-line on Nayya seems to have absorbed Indian raga.
Electric moments, such as the opening On Sait Faire Blues, recall the ON-U Sound of Skip McDonald`s Little Axe, and Tackhead`s recent album of covers. More ON-U comparisons come with My Boy. Where the acoustic picking and tabla bring to mind Bim Sherman`s sublime Miracle. The similarly acoustic Dembo is a redemption song, in the manner of Marley, Buju Benton’s Untold Stories, or Sibusile Xaba`s Open Letter To Adoniah. Tell Me is simply a spellbinding showcase for the kora, and Cissokho`s virtuosity.
Rhythm Of The Griot is available from Kafou Music. If you’d like to find out more about the griot tradition, which dates back to 13th Century Mali, I’ve linked to a great documentary below. It focusses on Cissokho who built his own kora aged 5.