Classical Detours

When A Cello And A Kora Come Together

(Classical Detours meanders through stylistic byways, exploring new recordings from the fringes of classical music.)

Cellist Cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballake Sissoko i i

hide captionAn unlikely combo: Cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballake Sissoko.

Pierre Emmanuel Rastoin
Cellist Cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballake Sissoko

An unlikely combo: Cellist Vincent Segal and kora player Ballake Sissoko.

Pierre Emmanuel Rastoin

Sometimes the most beautiful art comes from accidental meetings and unexpected inspirations.

Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal met by chance. Sissoko plays the traditional West African harp-like instrument called the kora. Segal was once a member of the French National Orchestra cello section.

They had no idea what might happen if they started jamming together — just the two of them with their contrasting instruments from divergent traditions. The result is music of quiet beauty — and a new album titled simply Chamber Music.

Sissoko's roots are in Mali and the traditions of the West African griot — a kind of wandering historian, musician, poet and praise singer all wrapped into one. The art of the griot is passed down from generation to generation.

Chamber Music album cover
Six degrees records

Segal was trained in the Western classical music, but the sounds he coaxes from his cello are, at times, far from your garden variety sonata. Applying very light bow pressure, he can make his instrument sound uncannily close to the plaintive cries of the West African flute called tambiru.

In the song "Ma-Ma FC" (hear it below), Sissoko's galloping rhythm is the ground over which Segal's melody soars, at turns wistful and blithe. (There's also the shooshing of the karignan, West African metal castanets.) Midway through, Segal takes over plucking duties, making way for a masterful solo by Sissoko. It begins simply, slowly builds to a shower of notes and ends with a flourish of interlocking rhythms between the two musicians.

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It's the simple pairing of these two quiet instruments and the soulful playing — in all of its disguised complexity — that makes a powerful impression and makes you smile.

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