May 2007

Ba Cissoko
presented by Music Africa & Small World Music
May 11, 2007 Lula Lounge Toronto
Electric Griot Lands at Lula
by Laila Boulos with photos by Roger Humbert
Ba Cissoko formed his current band, named after himself, in 1999. The members are: Ba Cissoko on lead vocal, kora, tamani; Ibrahim Bah "Kounkouré" on calabasse, djembé, crin and congas; Kourou Kouyaté on bass, bolon and vocals, and Sekou Kouyaté on kora (electric and acoustic) and vocals.

The evening began with Ibrahim Bah's serious and intense drumming proclaiming the imminent arrival of the kora royalty to the already pumped up audience. Although Toronto audiences are known for being cool and slow to warm up, from that moment, Ba Cissoko (the band) had a dogs-on-a-too-short-leash audience drooling for their walk in the park with the band.

Ba Cissoko comes from a line of musicians who forced him from an early age onto his career path. Thankfully for us, the very grateful listeners, Ba eventually accepted his fate. Using his creativity to rework the kora, he created music that was current and attractive to a younger audience while preserving and respecting the gorgeous traditions of this magical instrument of his ancestors.

Their hypnotic and mesmerizing African music is tinged with many influences such as blues, folk, rock, reggae and steel band flavours that texture and colour their music.

Ba and Sekou's creativity with the kora treated their audience to many of its personalities. At times the sounds emanating were evocative of a bubbling, flowing waterfall, at others cascading and overlapping melodies took over while still at others the koras were deftly producing fireflies in a night sky landing briefly to playfully light up a song. The evening was a veritable cornucopia of aural delights.

Sekou is renowned for his proficiency with a wah-wah pedal, often being compared to Jimi Hendrix. Hearing him play, one would not be faulted for searching the stage for the electric guitar as his adept fingers flew over the kora whipping up intoxicating guitar riffs and searing wails.

Ba Cissoko
Other than the occasional staccato playing of the kora or the 'grande finale' percussion of some pieces, the evening's musical mosaic flowed languidly, gliding from one song to another. There were also a few interesting 'call and response' pieces between the band members.

During one piece, the enthusiastic and adventurous bassist Kourou attempted to round up the audience to participate in a 'call and response' song. Encouraging with "tout le monde", (as in 'everybody join in') he danced around the stage. Kourou gave up after a short time. Failure of the technique was not due to a lack of enthusiasm on the part of the audience, but rather, a communication barrier. He had better luck later during the encore.

Throughout the evening, the members skillfully steered from one song into another, swaying their audience into a hypnotic trance with mesmerizing kora cascades or pumping them up with heavy percussion and then gently gliding them back to earth and into the next musical rainbow.

The thunderbolt crack of the tamani contrasted starkly with the trance-inducing rhythms of many of the pieces and the playful dance of the two koras. The bass, on the other hand, provided a sexy backdrop for the other instruments highlighting blues and rock influences throughout the performance.

Although there was limited space, that did not hinder the many people who were up dancing on the crowded floor during most of the evening. Even those sitting down looking bored came alive with animated applause after each piece. The Lula Lounge, with its stellar sound system and unencumbered views was the perfect backdrop for such exquisite music.

The final song of the evening, "Africa", drove the crowd into a frenzy while the two koras dueled feverishly and the bass joined in the fray. The throbbing percussion provided the foam on the cappuccino to an already percolating piece.

Sekou Kouyaté, Ba Cissoko & Kourou Kouyaté

Ibrahim Bah
As slowly and seductively as the evening began, the band members slowly began one-by-one to leave the stage, beginning with Ba, followed by Kourou, then Ibrahim. Sekou, who was left playing as the crowd clapped, demanded of his audience "Est-ce que ça va?", meaning "Is that ok — did you have enough?". He continued to taunt the crowd who were now putty in his hands, motioning them to clap over their heads and yell until the rest of his cohorts returned.

With the encore, "Guinée", Kourou insisted that everyone get up to dance. This had much better results than the previous attempt at 'call and response'. He even succeeded at getting a woman up to dance on the stage with the band.

The crowd, which was now in heaven, gave the band a heartfelt dancing, standing ovation.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Laila Boulos
• • • • • •
Roger Humbert
• •
The Live Music Report

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