Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal
@ the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre
20 November 2010
Click an image to enlarge.
For any musician, playing as a duo is an intense experience. The
art of conversation based on understanding, on the attentiveness
of one musician towards the other, is explored on Chamber Music
by kora player Ballaké Sissoko and cellist Vincent Segal
to an almost astounding degree of exactness.
Former stable-mates at now defunct French label Label Bleu, the
two men met and took time to forge a close, personal bond of friendship.
The idea of working together on an album germinated in Ballaké
Sissoko’s mind a few years ago; Sissoko had been present at
a concert given by Bumcello at the Amiens Jazz Festival, where Vincent
Segal had been playing with Cyril Atef, the other half of the explosive
Bumcello duo. As the Malian musician says, “It was important
to get to know each other musically. For quite some time we got
together at Vincent’s home whenever I was in Paris, and we
also played a few concerts. We built our complicity step by step.
Today, when we play, we understand each other without saying a word:
one look is enough. Our hearts are together.” So, in May 2009,
they finally decided to record together in Bamako, applying principles
dictated by a simple, illuminating common ethic, one whose terms
Segal describes succinctly as: "You just look for the pleasure
of music where you can.”
Chamber Music was recorded in one bare room in Salif Keita’s
Moffou studio in Mali, in three recording-sessions without overdubs.
Sheltered from the rest of the world, Ballaké Sissoko and
Vincent Segal chased out of their minds all consideration of genre
and style concentrating on the essence of their music. Their complicity
is such that the kora and the cello, far from resulting in an overly
formal exchange of rejoinders, seem to express themselves here with
a single voice. What the listener hears in Chamber Music is both
rare and precious: two sensibilities in unison, on the same wavelength,
creating music that literally, flows naturally.
The same feeling of concord also inhabits the dialogue between
the friends who Sissoko and Segal invited to join them on Chamber
Music. The voice of singer Awa Sangho drapes the solemn song Regret,
composed as a tribute to vocalist Kader Barry, in a fine veil. Houdesti
features Mahamadou Kamissoko (ngoni) and Fassery Diabaté
(balafon), both fleeting but significant presences. On two titles,
Demba Camara causes the traditional karignan to crackle with all
the science of a master of fire. In recording this album, Vincent
Segal says that musicians like songwriter Nick Drake or pianist
Annette Peacock came to mind. The resulting album is one of crystal
purity and put simply, quite, quite stunning.
This care brought to the human aspect of all music is something
that Sissoko and Segal have been cultivating for more than two decades—Sissoko’s
strings have notably crossed paths with those of Taj Mahal or the
pianist Ludovic Einaudi, whilst Segal has enjoyed many roles as
an accompanist, arranger or producer with such diverse performers
as Cesaria Evora, -M-, Blackalicious, Piers Faccini, Sting and Marianne
Faithfull. Their respective careers have shown the importance they
attach to communicating thoughts and sensations.