Ba Cissoko, Nimissa
A safe approach to updating traditional Manding music
On his fourth album, Guinean kora player Ba Cissoko doesn’t drag his 21-stringed harp-like instrument into the future so much as into the more recent past. The distorted sound of the electric kora — as played by Cissoko cousin Sekou KouyatÃ©, introduced on 2007′s Electric Griot Land — adds a refreshing snarl to the reggae-rhythmed “Politiki” and elsewhere; and yet it’s an old-fashioned wailing electric guitar that dominates album closer “Kora Rocks.” Cissoko’s other big stab at modernity is “Djoulo Diata,” with its jazzy sax, funky groove, and unexceptional scat singing.
If Nimissa takes an overly-safe approach to updating traditional Manding music by way of electric instrumentation and a drum set, much of the album nests comfortably in that tradition, thankfully. The Paris-based bandleader’s tribute to his griot grandma, “Djeli Fatouma,” has lovely humming harmonies reminiscent of Amadou and Mariam; “KÃ©lÃ©faba” is the “Guantanamera” of kora tunes, so ingrained it never sounds stale; and Cissoko even picks up a new (at least for him) old instrument, the kamale ngoni lute, for “N’Gnoni Ba.” Recorded and mixed by Gypsy Kings producer Philippe Eidel, Nimissa (Regrets) is a fusion experiment in which the title track’s horn section and “Loumo”‘s Parisian accordion mostly just gild the lily, which is, of course, Ba Cissoko’s mastery of the music of his people.