Words by Nigel Willamson. Photography by Sebastien Rieussec.
Over his long,career, Kassé Mady has been part of the fusion projects Songhai and Afrocubism, he has sung with Toumani Diabaté’s Symmetric Orchestra and he’s made electric dance albums – 1989’s Fode rivalled Salif Keita’s Soro as a masterpiece of the genre. But he’s perhaps at his best in a traditional acoustic setting, singing the Mande griot songs of his ancestors. Kiriké sets the velvet tones of his deep, resonant voice against a magnificent backing from Ballaké Sissoko’s kora, Lansine Kouyaté’s balafon and Badjé Tounkara’s ngoni.
The contrast between the deceptive simplicity of the instrumentation and the virtuosic complexity of its interplay is emphasised by the masterful production of Vincent Segal, who allows us to hear the pluck and scrape of every note but keeps Kassé Mady’s voice to the fore, even when he lowers the volume to an atmospheric whisper, as he does towards the end of the compelling title-track. The duet between kora and ngoni on ‘Simbo’ is as ethereal as the meshing of ngoni and balafon on ‘Ko Kuma Magni’ is downright funky. Segal’s cello offers the only non-traditional element, lending a droning, eerie empathy on ‘Toumarou’. But it’s Kassé Mady’s voice that commands attention. At 65 years old, he has surely never sung with greater authority and ripeness.