Words by Nigel Williamson
There has been a glut of recent albums featuring American and European musicians collaborating with their West African counterparts. Nobody should want to discourage such admirable cross-fertilisation. But listening to this lovely acoustic offering from two of Senegal’s finest talents, one could be forgiven for concluding that West African music is at its finest without the trend-setting hybridity and when it’s left in its traditional setting.
That said, this is a fusion of sorts, between the Fulani culture of singer, guitarist and hoddu (lute) player Sow (who spent many years as a mainstay of Baaba Maal’s band) and the Mandinka griot heritage of Sissoko (now based in Belgium). Together they create music that is timeless and totally immersing, drawing the listener into another world in which the myths and traditions of the past continue to echo and breathe with a vibrant vitality. The strings of ancient harps and lutes weave their magic with dextrous simplicity, creating a mood of all-encompassing serenity, while Sow’s voice may lack the soulfulness of Baaba Maal, he compensates with a therapeutic and soothing warmth.
Within this template of tranquility, there’s plenty of fluidity, too. Alongside shimmering, meditative instrumentals (‘Kora Julo’ and ‘Gams’), there are elegant and stately blues numbers (‘Manio Be Kumbola’), gentle Afro-pop melodies (‘Bilbasi’), some gritty hoddu playing on the title-track and a deep and affecting homage to the late, great Ali Farka Touré. Sublime stuff.
TRACK TO TRY: Bilbasi