Sunday, February 3, 2013

In review--Peaceful Prayers for Mali

Ballaké Sissoko
At Peace
Six Degrees Records

West African kora, cello, guitar, and balafon (a West African xylophone) comprise Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko’s At Peace.  After the success of his duo project with French cellist Vincent Segal, Chamber Music, the musical partnership remains strong.  However, At Peace is clearly Sissoko’s spotlight recording with Segal, Moussa Diabate (guitar), Aboubacar Diabate (guitar) and Fassery Diabate (balafon) coming aboard as guests.  During a time when Mali experiences war and oppression, At Peace comes as a sweet breath of air.  During a time when the brightest stars of Mali (the country’s musicians) have been shut out, this music ripples throughout the world.  To put it mildly, the warring factions banned music and musicians in Mali.  However, that hasn’t prevented the musicians from gathering and recording CDs and videos which you can find on YouTube.

The musicians chose the perfect name for this recording since its peacefulness floats out my window to reach the singing birds who hang out on the limbs of a tree.  For anyone who thinks of instrumental music as prayers will feel at home listening to this CD.  The kora itself which finds its roots in the Mandinka Kingdom and the griot tradition of West Africa has seen the best and worst of history in that region of the world.  The balafon has also traveled the distance while the guitars and cello represent a bridge between Europe (former colonialists) and West Africa.  The language of music here speaks in tongues of cooperation, harmony, and loving solidarity.  While this album hardly represents a March on Washington or a headline about another country overthrowing a corrupt government, it does represent the longevity of tribal cultures and musical traditions.  It sends out whispers of hope rather than screams of rebellion.  It reminds us of the beauty humans can create when they give up greedy and manipulative agendas and go instead with the flow.

The track N’Tomikorobougou features interlocking blues guitars reverberating off the delicate kora.  The opener, a solo chamber piece, Maimouna, feels soothing while giving off a fragrance of vulnerability (in the way that gentle solo music usually does).  For anyone wishing to revisit Chamber Music, Kabou intertwines kora with cello, whereas, Badjourou, and Kalata Diata features the ensemble of musicians.  Fassery’s balafon adds a nice touch.  When we listen to this stunning music, we can consider all of the uplifting music Malian musicians have brought to us over the years.  It’s not a time to take Mali or its musicians or people for granted.  I send prayers of peace and envision Mali as a harmonious, healthy, and vibrant country where not only musicians come together in harmony and the spirit of cooperation, but all Malians share in this peaceful manifestation.

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