Born in Saint-Louis (Senegal), Ablaye Cissoko is a singer and kora player who hails from a family of griots, the West-African repositories of the local songs, poems and stories handed down from one generation to the next through oral tradition. Having recorded three solo albums to date – Diam (2003), Le Griot Rouge (2005) and Mes Racines (2013) – the musician is also the central character of Griot (2011), a full-length documentary by German trumpet player and composer Volker Goetze which explores the social and spiritual function of the traditional musicians and storytellers as “social regulators” and faith healers.
The pair met for the first time back in 2001 during the rehearsals for a performance with the African-European Jazz Orchestra which was scheduled to open for a Youssou N’Dour concert in Saint-Louis. Since then, a fascinating chemistry developed between the two musicians who started touring together. Sira, their first recording as a duo was released in 2008.
What started off as an original encounter between the West-African oral tradition and a more academic European approach or as the experimental pairing of a 21-string African harp with a trumpet produced a quasi-mystical musical fusion where the common ground is the freedom and scope allowed by Jazz improvisation.
The resulting interplay has a highly melodic, warm and natural flow, seamlessly blending the cultural heritage and influences of the two musicians.
Years of playing together culminated in 2012 with Amanké Dionti on the Motéma Music label, a magnificent second duo recording. With two instrumentals and songs touching on contemporary societal and political issues, Ablaye Cissoko’s voice and kora playing remain central while Volker Goetze’s (sometimes muted) trumpet provides many a spine-tingling counterpoint, elaborating softly on Cissoko’s soulful singing and playing.
Further highlighting the spiritual nature of the music, Amanké Dionti was not recorded within the four walls of a studio but was captured live in a Parisian church, thus enriching the overall sound with a subtle reverb.
When we play, we are simply playing in a state of mind much like meditating. Any great performer knows how to get into his ‘zone,’ and it amazes me that we can stay in that zone for over an hour every time we perform live. Of course, the energy of the audience helps. But when we are recording, it’s important to spend as much time as necessary in that place as well, not for the sake of perfection, but to allow that same moment of peace to enter. If one meditates, you know that we cannot stay ‘in the moment’ for very long. It’s hard work. The mind wanders. One continually needs to bring it back to the present, to the breath. Volker Goetze
A unique, serene and haunting sonic feast, Amanké Dionti is a truly enchanting record.
A third duo recording is scheduled for release in October 2014.