Introducing: Solo & Indrė

Posted on May 18th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

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Simon Broughton investigates the Senegalese and Lithuanian collaboration ahead of its UK premiere next month

Solo & Indrė perform at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 3. Click here to buy tickets.

Basically it’s pretty simple – kora meets kanklės, Senegal meets Lithuania. Solo Cissokho, from Senegal, plays the West African kora and Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė, from Lithuania, plays a Baltic zither, the Lithuanian version of the Finnish kantele that is also played in Latvia and Estonia. But of course, none of these collaborations are as simple as they look. Just on the string-count, this involves 21 plus 29, that’s 50 strings to be pulled.

What’s remarkable is how quickly this one took off. Jurgelevičiūtė had been interested in working with a kora player, so when Solo Cissokho was doing a concert in Vilnius with his trio, they met up for dinner, decided to try playing together the next day and ended up recording an album.

A recording from that session won the Battle of the Bands competition in 2015 – a really useful leg-up organised by World Music Network – and the Solo & Indrė album got some very fine reviews. ‘The mix of Baltic and West African folk styles is an unlikely one, but the sound it creates is relaxing, thoughtful and oddly saddening, in the most beautiful way,’ said Jim Hickson in his review in #114.

The duo actually create a very similar soundworld to Seckou Keita & Catrin Finch, whose Songlines Music Award-winning kora and harp collaboration Clychau Dibon has been a big success. Both duos feature plucked strings in which it’s hard to tell one instrument from another. There’s another connection as both kora players come from Ziguinchor in the kora heartland of Casamance.

“We put the tunes from both of us together and the music decides where we go,” says Cissokho. “And we connect the tunes into one musical story,” Jurgelevičiūtė adds. “Sometimes I start a tune and Solo adds something very unexpected and beautiful,” which is exactly what such collaborations are about. The opening track on Solo & Indrė seamlessly joins a Cissokho composition to a Lithuanian tune, one melody magically evolving into another.

Cissokho now lives in Sweden, where he forged his first BBC award-winning partnership with violinist Ellika Frisell. They recorded two albums and recently a third bringing in Mexican percussionist Rafael Sida, so Cissokho is no stranger to the art of collaboration. “I didn’t decide to do this project with Indrė,” he says, “the instruments did.”

But collaborations are actually about people and not about instruments or musical genres. The best musical partnerships are about musicians working together and understanding each other. Indrė Jurgelevičiūtė started playing the kanklės aged seven. “This traditional Lithuanian instrument has its origins centuries back,” she says, “and it was used in pagan rituals, for worshipping the gods and for protection from bad spirits.” As with the kantele, there are many versions from simple five, nine and 12-string versions to the 29-string ‘concert’ version of the instrument she uses here.

“My songs are coming from traditional tunes,” she says, “often rearranged and improvised.” But both Cissokho and Jurgelevičiūtė are vocalists as well. Singing is central to the Casamance griot tradition and Jurgelevičiūtė has not only studied Lithuanian song, but is a big fan of Indian music and was about to start seriously studying with Kishori Amonkar, who sadly died last month (see obit on p15). Amonkar’s mantra was about really getting inside the raga and the space of the music.

Solo & Indrė is not just a meeting of instruments, it is really a meeting of tradition bearers.

DATE: Solo & Indrė play at Songlines Encounters Festival at Kings Place on June 3

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