Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal bridge disparate music traditions | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Malian kora player Ballake Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal bridge disparate music traditions


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As heard on the stunning 2013 solo album At Peace (Six Degrees), the playing of Malian kora virtuoso Ballake Sissoko is rooted in traditional Mande modes, but over his career he’s distinguished himself by making efforts to bridge cultural divides through thoughtful collaboration. He’s worked with American bluesman Taj Mahal, Chinese pipa master Liu Fang, Italian contemporary classical pianist and composer Ludovico Einaudi, and Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi. But no partnership has proven as fruitful as his duo with French cellist Vincent Segal, a musician who’s long shared Sissoko’s knack for cross-cultural exchange. Two years ago the duo dropped Musique de Nuit (Six Degrees), their second album of sparkling, meditative duets that delve into the delicate side of each instrument. While Sissoko cleaves to his native tradition, unleashing hypnotic arpeggios and glittery, cascading downward runs, Segal adapts his techniques to imitate various African instruments, sometimes in a single track—on “Balazando,” for example, he plucks his cello in a way that evokes the Gnawan guembri before unspooling unhurried bowed lines that suggest the nasal twang of the Malian fiddle known as the njarka. “Super Etoile,” named after the pioneering Senegalese mbalax band that launched the career of Youssou N’Dour, rides a loping kora groove, allowing Segal to run free as he moves from bowed to plucked lines, conveying a dance-worthy drive without a single bit of percussion.   v

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