Strings definitely attached as kora meets guitar on new album

Kora player Ballaké Sissoko of Mali and South African guitarist Derek Gripper

May 19, 2024 - 10:10
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Strings definitely attached as kora meets guitar on new album

Make no mistake about what is happening here — this is a meeting between instruments, not traditions. 

Most certainly, the dialogue between Malian Ballaké Sissoko’s kora and South African Derek Gripper’s guitar is a summit between two master musicians who are operating with control and freedom at the highest peaks of their art. 

There are two bulls in the pen. And it is equally certain that these maestros emerge from quite different and distant musical worlds — Sissoko’s kora tradition and lineage traverse the once powerful empire known as Kaabu in Gambia, southern Senegal and Guinea Bissau. 

Gripper’s stems from the European classical guitar. 

But we are not hearing these traditions in dialogue. Our protagonists meet on the sonic groundings of the kora, traditionally a 21-string instrument of the griots, resonant vessel of the sacred and profane, sound carrier of history and wisdom. The kraal is pitched on Sissoko’s terrain. 

And through two decades of commitment and study, it is to this terrain that Gripper brings the modern European guitar to meet its cousin.

Gripper’s 2012 album One Night On Earth was the record of his journey towards adapting the classical music of the kora, including a composition by Sissoko, for the guitar. 

His success in doing so, and his unique mastery of jeli music on the instrument, represent a fascinating new direction in the guitar’s modern history, both in Africa and globally. 

For his part, Sissoko is revered as the kora’s most innovative modern exponent, an internationally recognised bearer of a tradition which he has put into a condition of movement and transformation. 

The two men do not share a spoken language, but if it is true that music speaks universally, then they were already involved in profound dialogue long before they met for the series of London concerts which yielded this recording session. 

The fruit is their new album Ballaké Sissoko & Derek Gripper, a session that matches deep communion with sparkling improvisation, which pushes a living tradition into brand-new sonic spaces and opens a live and direct channel of communication between kora and guitar. 

In the complex web of theme and variations spun by Sissoko’s 22 strings and Gripper’s six, a new African string theory is elaborated. Through the spell-binding vibrations of this web, a new, previously unsuspected musical universal is revealed.

These sleeve notes, from the just-released album Ballaké Sissoko & Derek Gripper, are republished with permission from Matsuli Music.

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David Lee Munemo David Lee Munemo is a rising Zimbabwean journalist with a passion for making complex news discoveries accessible to the public. Driven by a belief in the importance of information communication, David's work tackles a variety of news fields, from groundbreaking entertainment research to the latest political news.