Kora maestro and percussionist Seckou Keita is from a long line of griots in Senegal which include his fellow kora-playing uncle Solo Cissokho, he of the recent intriguing collaborations with Swedish fiddler Ellika Frissell.
So it’s no real surprise that the sometime Baka Beyonder has chosen his second album to gather together a quartet that expands on the interplay between certain traditional West African and classical Western instruments.
As the ensemble's name suggests, the line-up consists of four components. The economical rhythmic pulse of Davide Mantovani’s double bass and Sura Susso’s percussion underpin Seckou’s robust but graceful improvisation on 22-string kora, with the long yearning notes of Egyptian violinist Samy Bishai sharing the bill with the earthy rasp of Juldeh Camara on the Gambian riti (single-string fiddle). Keita also sings, his voice a soothing soulful croon that acts more as an additional instrument than a focal point to the songs.
This is an album that reveals its charms slowly and without fuss, but it's a beautiful and rewarding experience once it has. It’s hard to pin a label on the music - Keita is the composer of all but one of the songs, and he manages to seamlessly blur the lines between his own folk tradition and the contemporary setting he has put it in. There’s an easy melodic and rhythmic fluidity to the tunes, which range from sedate ballads to mellow mid-tempo grooves and the occasional track to get you on your feet, such as Sina-Mory, a robustly delivered allegory on the perils of emigration.
There is a hint of blues on another standout track, Tounga, which features guest vocalist Binta Susso, and Afö is has an appealing jazzy feel, all sinuous violin and jabbing bass-line, with the merest deft touch on the kora from Keita. The Mandinka-style Keita-lu acts as an ear-catching centre-piece to the album, Seckou Keita’s chiming kora and his best vocal on the album - a warm, tender lament - drawing on the mournful effect of Bishai's violin.
All in all, an experimental but successful departure for kora music.