Reviews & Profiles
The Cissokos in a musical folk tale
Posted Saturday, March 2 2013 at 02:00
Cozy, candlelit table-seating, the muted sound of rain outside and a stage two rows ahead of me bore an unerring resemblance to a twilight night. This was the backdrop to two hugely varying approaches to traditional stringed music at Mishmash along Acacia Avenue on February 22.
First on stage was Sousou, who was followed by her husband Maher Cissoko together with three others, making a five-person band. Hailing from Senegal, the singing couple is part of a family heritage and wider tradition of griots – a griot being a sort of West African wordsmith or story teller who perpetuates and contemporises a rich oral tradition.
Maher plays the kora, a 21-stringed, harp-like instrument. For some watching, I suspect it was a slightly alien piece, but for Maher, it looked like an extension of his body. He effortlessly added staccatoed skittering runs and flamenco-sounding internal rhythms, while his voice moved between deep wistful melodies.
Sousou played along, with an acoustic guitar set, inspired by and adapted from a mix of traditional West African and Swedish music, spiced with pop, reggae, mbalax, and a pinch of hip hop.
A mix of different cultures
Having recently arranged much of their music in Walof, Mandinge French and English, the band’s output largely abandons the rhythmic contours of structure in favour of languorous meditations on harmony.
One Senegalese-mode piece sungot yima flared with pace and intricate execution, but the band’s admission and aesthetic adherence to the idea that folk music’s speed can “wear your ears out” sacrificed something in the social, danceable tradition nestled in and sometimes obscured by Maher’s ponderous renditions.
Two musicians’ approach to traditional music: one ritualised, the exploratory.
“Every thing completely lovely I can’t regret spending my Friday night here,” Deborah Akankwasa a reveller said.
For me, Maher and Sousou were a masterclass in maintaining the crucial social elements of a folk heritage. And from what looked like the crowd’s gentle nodding-along, I think they all would agree.