World Music Matters

Sounds of quiet beauty for a troubled world

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Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal first came together in 2009 for their highly-acclaimed debut album Chamber Music, creating a new sound from two seemingly incompatible instruments. For their latest album Musique de Nuit (Night Music), they recorded several pieces on the rooftop of Sissoko’s home in Bamako.

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal in  Bamako, on Sissoko's rooftop where the album was recorded
Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal in Bamako, on Sissoko's rooftop where the album was recorded David Baché/RFI

The two musicians have become firm friends, both quiet men who let their strings do the talking.

Sissoko comes from a long tradition of Malian players of the kora, often known as the African harp. He’s worked with renowned musicians such as Toumani Diabaté and Taj Mahal.

French-born Vincent Segal is a former member of the French National Orchestra, but plays with the French dub/trip hop band Bumcello and has brought a trip hop infused approach to classical cello playing.

Improvisation is at the heart of this latest album, half of which was recorded not in the studio but on Sissoko’s rooftop in Bamako.

"I’m relaxed when I play at home," says Sissoko, "it’s not like being on stage, you don’t feel trapped by the music".

They each wrote around half the pieces, and take turns to play rhythm and melody. The track Super Etoile showcases their skill at conversing through strings.

Despite Mali's exceptionally strong musical culture, there isn't much enthousiasm however for instrumental music. "Malians prefer the voice," adds Sissoko. And loud ones at that. Live music tends to feature saturated vocals, played full blast.

Working with Segal has brought in new, appreciative audiences. "I’m really happy because I’m managing to get people listening to this kind of instrumental music," says the kora player.

As for Segal, he's found a spiritual and musical ally.

"We believe in humanity but not big words you know, just playing very quiet stuff and without being intrusive."

In these conflict-ridden times, Segal and Sissoko's music provides something of a refuge.

Segal identifies with Britain's Nest Collective music movement. "It's good, we need some kind of protection in a cool way".

Segal and Sissoko are on facebook

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