Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba – Routes



Title: Routes

Artist: Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba

Label: Twelve Eight

Formats: CD, Digital

Release date: June 29, 2018


Building a bridge across the Atlantic, Routes is a collaboration between Sengalese kora master Diali Keba Cissokho and his band Kaira Ba that links North Carolina to M’bour, Senegal—where the tracks were recorded in a rattan-paneled hotel room overlooking the ocean. Cissokho, who was born into a family of griots and can trace his musical linage back to 16th century Mali, relocated to North Carolina after marrying an American student of Sengalese music. There, he connected with a quartet of local musicians including drummer Austin McCall, percussionist Will Ridenour (who also plays djembe), Berklee-trained jazz guitarist John Westmoreland, and bassist Jonathan Henderson—an ethnomusicologist well versed in jazz and afro-diasporic styles. Working together to create a musical language that combined elements of these multiple traditions, the group transformed into Kaira Ba.

One of the unique aspects of Routes is the wide range of contributing artists from both nations who lent their talents to this project. As the tracks were laid down in Senegal, Cissokho invited numerous friends and relatives to contribute to the mix, including a group of drummers who set up in the courtyard. Once the band returned home, they overdubbed instrumental and vocal tracks using a variety of well-known local musicians. Their goal, to “tell the story of these two places Diali has called home,” has certainly been realized through this expanded musical palate and community spirit, while the aural soundscapes of each location also enter the mix.

Opening with the familiar Carolina summer sound of cicadas, “Alla L’a Ke” is a traditional kora song dedicated to Cissokho’s late father, which the group transforms through the addition of a string quartet featuring violinist Jennifer Curtis, among others. Up next is “Badima” with a catchy Afro-rock groove laid over Chuckey Robinson’s organ and a fast and furious percussive conclusion.  Salsa, which is extremely popular in West African, is the basis for the track “Salsa Xalel,” blended here with the national dance mbalax using local percussion and balafon. The tie-in to the American South comes by way of the track’s funky horn section and gospel singers Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, who join Cissokho on vocals as they ponder what kind of world are we leaving for our children:

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Yet another interesting sound collage can be found in “Saya,” a poignant song about grasping the reality of death. Opening with a kora solo by Cissokho, the focus shifts mid-section to Eric Heywood’s pedal steel guitar, blending perfectly with kora, guitar and bass. John Westmoreland takes the lead on “Story Song,” which he composed in the Mali style known as desert blues, with Cissokho providing the narration in English about the band’s seven-year collaboration: “these people I’m playing music with / we’re not the same culture / we’re not the same religion/ but out heart is the same…you can’t play music like this if your heart is not beautiful.”

The album closes with “Night In M’Bour,” featuring a collage of sounds recorded during an evening in Cissokho’s home town, including a traditional sabar drum ensemble and fula flute solo, then concluding with the night crickets of M’Bour—a bookend to the opening soundscapes of North Carolina.

Routes is the perfect showcase for Kaira Ba’s unique fusion of Senegalese and American musical traditions, as well as a demonstration of cross-cultural collaboration and mutual respect between band members who welcomed an immigrant to their community.


Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

Two Compilations of 1970’s African Pop Music

soul sok sega

Title: Soul Sok Sega: Sega Sounds from Mauritius, 1973-1979

Artists: Various

Label: Strut

Formats: CD, LP, MP3

Release Date: January 16, 2016


senegal 70

Title: Senegal 70: Sonic Gems and Previously Released Recordings from the 70s

Artists: Various

Label: Analog Africa

Formats: CD, LP, Download (MP3, FLAC, etc.)

Release Date: November 27, 2015



Two new compilations dive deep into the 1970s music cultures of two African regions—Mauritius Island and the nation of Senegal. Geographically, these places are about as far apart as you can get in Africa; Senegal is the westernmost nation on the continent, and Mauritius is an island hundreds of miles east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean.

Sega is the traditional music of Mauritius Island. Its roots are in the slave trade, as Mauritius was a way station for humans captured in Africa and Madagascar, and subsequently trafficked to the Americas. It’s related to American blues, which also evolved from African slaves’ music.

In the 1960s, the traditional Sega musicians began to add in Western jazz, soul and funk elements, and a danceable, electric music resulted. This is the music featured on the Strut album, which was compiled by DJ duo La Basse Tropicale (Natty Hô and Konsöle), based on the neighboring island of La Reunion. Liner notes are by Mauritian cultural expert Percy Yip Tong, and include new artist interviews.

Although the music is sung in Creole, the underlying message is universal—get out of your seat and shake it. Each of the 20 tunes in the compilation are fast driving, foot-tapping gems. Also, kudos to Strut Records’ production team for making good transfers from 45rpm singles and other sonically challenged sources, and getting nice, clear end results. Soul Sok Sega is a winner.

Senegal 70 is more tightly focused. Five of the 12 tracks are newly-released recordings from the Sangomar club in the Senegalese city of Thies. These recordings have a less-produced quality about them than the other cuts, which are mostly transfers from 70’s-era commercial singles and albums. The commercially-released tunes have a tighter feel, whereas the club recordings sometimes suffer from off-tuning and out-of-sync playing. However, the club recordings have the admirable qualities of spontaneous happenings, full of enthusiasm if somewhat raw.

The music of Senegal in this era was electrified and funky, with strong Reggae influences. Typical of African popular music in the ‘70s, complex beats and multiple layers of guitars, vocals and horns are heard throughout. Like the Sega music on the other side of the continent, Senegalese popular music of the 1970s was dance music. The dances in Senegal were likely slower and more swaying, and some tunes in the compilation show how West African music influenced Latin jazz. As with the Strut collection, the Analog Africa albums’ songs are sung in non-English languages, but this does not detract from listening enjoyment.

As has been the case with previous Analog Africa releases, Senegal 70 includes a detailed, well-crafted booklet that profiles the music scene, the artists featured in the set, and provides historical context for the scene and the music.

These two fine compilations show again how vital and varied African pop music was during the 1970’s heyday. Both are highly recommended.



Reviewed by Tom Fine


Title: Alliance
Artist: Afrissippi
Label: Hill Country Records
Catalog No.: 8095
Release date: June 3, 2008

Afrissippi’s Alliance represents a skilled fusion of Mississippi blues and Senegalese musical traditions. Guelel Kumba, guitarist and lead vocalist, is a member of the Fulani from the Futa Tooro region of West Africa. Not content with restricting his musical efforts to learning the molo (a one-stringed guitar) and several centuries worth of griot songs and oral traditions, Guelel also picked up the six-stringed guitar, fell in love with delta blues, andfollowing an invitation from Eric Deatonmoved to North Mississippi to study the work of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough.

Upon his arrival in the States, Guelel and Deaton quickly drew together a number of other musicians, including Kinney Kimbrough, Papa Assane M’Baye, and Justin Showah, and formed Afrissippi. Although the group released its first album, Fulani Journey, in 2006 and has a large fan following, its efforts have received scant attention from www.allmusic.com and Amazon, both of which have stuffed Afrissippi’s albums into the rather non-descript “world music” genre. Even Wikipedia seems to have passed them over. At least the Fund for Folk Culture has proven more attentive and in 2007 it awarded Guelel with a grant to support the recording and release of Alliance.

For the most part, the album leans more heavily to the Senegalese side of the musical spectrum. The blues’ influences are the heaviest on “Singha,” “Ngoppe Kam,” and “Debbo Ndoogu,” where the guitars take on a grittier American sound. In the case of Debbo, the rhythms, harmonic patterns, and Guelel’s vocal timbre are solidly in the blues’ tradition and the drum kit nearly overpowers the ever-present sound of the saubaru. For the most part, however, the singing, ostinato guitar parts, and laidback rhythms are more reminiscent of Senegal than Mississippi. “Raas” even drops the guitars in favor of a more traditional combination of solo voice and polyphonic percussion. The final track of the CD consists of a heavily reverbed version of “Gede Nooro,” sung solo and a capella by Guelel.

The one fault of the promo copy is an utter lack of liner notes. Hopefully this isn’t the case with the officially released version. Not understanding Fulanior even being certain that Guelel is actually singing in Fulaniit’s difficult to comment on the lyrical content of the CD. Although translated lyrics aren’t necessary for enjoying the album, it does leave room for speculation on the part of listeners and a few online sources have already commented on its “ancient” feel and “future primitive” vibe. With the exception of “Raas” and “Gede Nooro,” the album really falls more towards popular as opposed to traditional Senegalese music. Although Afrissippi’s promotional material does encourage some degree of exoticization as a marketing ploy, it would be nice to balance this out with a bit of cultural information within the album itself.

All and all, Afrissippi is a good band that definitely deserves more attention than it’s currently receiving. Hopefully this recent release and the band’s 2008 United States tour will push it more into the limelight.

Posted by Ronda L. Sewald