Album of the Week // 12–16 April

Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko released his eleventh album, Djourou, on 9 April 2021 on French label Nø Førmat! (Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy, Mélissa Laveaux). Djourou draws together solo compositions alongside thoughtful collaborations with Nouvelle Vague’s Camille, African legend Salif Keita, leading kora player Sona Jobarteh, master cellist Vincent Segal, French rapper Oxmo Puccino, singer/songwriter Piers Faccini and Arthur Teboul, a vocalist from Paris-based rock band Feu! Chatterton.

Benoit Peverelli

The seeds for the new album were sown when Ballaké proposed a project to Nø Førmat! that blended kora pieces with unexpected collaborations. His brief was simple — to seek out diverse artists who were fans of his work, with very little in common with the Mandinka musical genre for which his griot caste is celebrated.

Djourou has been a slow-burn project, in the making since 2018. The album’s careful intention also chimes with its title — “djourou” is a Bambara word meaning string — a nod not just to the 21 strings found on a kora but to the ties that connect him to the artists who collaborate with him across the album.

Benoit Peverelli

Every artist on Djourou is tied to Ballaké by an invisible string. On ‘Frotter Les Mains’ Oxmo Puccino’s lyrics are about rubbing hands, the joy of meeting, of touching in a world that is becoming ever more contactless and distanced. When Ballaké plays, Puccino sees “a ballet of fingers on dozens of strings. It’s beautiful to watch. It’s as if he’s knitting the music together.”

Camille shares that fascination, knitting her own words into a sublime love letter to the kora; Vincent Segal and Patrick Messina (on clarinet) team up with him to take Berlioz and his Symphonie Fantastique on an epic journey along the banks of the Niger River; the exquisite, soft vocals of Piers Faccini float above the deep notes of the kora on ‘Kadidja’ — a ballad sung in Bambara — and Gambian kora player Sona Jobarteh collaborates with Ballaké on the title track, uniting generations and weaving a thread across borders. ‘Guelen’ pairs Ballaké’s kora with the sacred voice of Salif Keita, recorded in Keita’s Mouffou Studios in Bamako. The album concludes with ‘Un Vêtement Pour La Lune’, where Ballaké takes the strings of his kora on a madcap adventure with singer Arthur Teboul, reaching for the stars and clothing them in poetry.

Benoit Peverelli

Ballaké Sissoko was first drawn to the kora at a young age, learning from his father, Djelimady Sissoko, a master performer who played with the Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali, of which he was also deputy director. When Djelimady passed away whilst his children were still young, Ballaké stepped up to take on his role not only as breadwinner for the family but in his country’s national orchestra. A natural fascination with other genres beyond Mandinka’s scope such as flamenco guitar and the Indian sitar kick-started a series of critically praised collaborations including those with Toumani Diabate, Taj Mahal, Ludovic Einaudi and, of course, Vincent Segal, with whom he has released two albums on Nø Førmat! and their musical conversation continues here on Djourou.

Listen to tracks from the album all this week on Morning Mari*, a 15-minute mini breakfast show every day from 09:00–09:15 BST.

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