ballake-sissoko-at-peace. Sissoko’s playing is exquisite and his global calibre is something that Mali should be very proud of.

Label: Six Degrees
Time: 9 Tracks / 45 minutes

I was excited to see this one appear through my letter-box, because I loved kora player Sissoko’s gorgeous previous release Chamber Music, where he teamed up with French cellist Vincent Ségal. It was made in the calm and warm of Malian evenings, and that atmosphere came through.

This time, Ségal returns to produce the disc and appear on four tracks. His simple harmony lines on “Asa Branca” add a tremendous fluency to the striking Brazilian melody that already has some flamenco spirit, while his smooth cello floats above the crisper, plucked sounds on “Kalata Diata.”

When Sissoko is free to pick his kora on his own, as in the memorable opener “Maimouna” and “Nalesonko,” he has space to develop the piece and create a mood. Over time it is probably these exquisite solo tracks (along with “Asa Branca”) that I have warmed to most.

But the complete set needs the variety that others bring, and even the addition of just a twelve-string guitar makes the music more hypnotic. On “Boubalaka” Sissoko’s harp-like kora and Aboubacar Diabaté's guitar intertwine their notes in cascading sequences against a constant riff, suddenly playing in unison towards the end.

When the players increase to five for “Badjourou” the ensemble builds layers of sound, only to stop for some jazz-like unison lines, before Segal’s flowing cello brings in a new dimension just before the end.

This is a not an instant album for western ears; it grows with listens. At over ten minutes, the duet with twelve-string guitar “N’Tomikorobougou” originally felt rather long and rambling, but the first six minutes have become highlights.

I still prefer the stronger tunes and intimate interplay that built up across Chamber Music, but At Peace is a fine example of masterful kora playing. It seems criminal that these musicians are banned in Mali at this time of unrest. Their cross-cultural friendship is a model of the accord the nation needs right now and their global calibre is something that Mali should be very proud of.

Derek Walker

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