Late at night in Salif Keita’s studio in Bamako a cellist and a kora player recorded their jams. Vincent Segal (cellist) tells us what lay behind his collaboration with Ballaké Sissoko
Tell us a little bit about your backgrounds in music before you got together for this project
Ballaké and I are the same age. We started playing music when we were children. Ballaké followed his father’s footsteps, as well as his grandfather’s, the great Djelimady Sissoko. I followed Pierre Penassou’s footsteps (Quatuor Parennin) at Conservatoire National Supérieur.
Both of us have played and recorded with numerous musicians and singers over the world. And we are both open to music, from India to Africa, from Ram Narayan to Béla Bartok.
How did you meet and how did the idea for the record come about?
I knew Ballaké’s music through his duet album with Toumani Diabaté and his albums on Label Bleu (I used to work for this label too).
Ballaké came to me right after a concert I played with Chocolate Genius and proposed to meet each other on a regular basis in order to play a duet!
Tell us about the recording process (in Moffou Studio)
Ballaké organized the recording at Bamako, we wanted to play late at night, simply, no overdubs, just play as two friends would do, without disturbing the conversation between the instruments. Moffou studio is a simple and isolated place. When you are there, you go straight to the point: the pleasure of playing.
What balance were you trying to achieve between the cello and the kora?
Space is the place! We don’t think in terms of instrument, it is much more about the unsaid. The cello pizzicati is often implied, most people think the cello doesn’t play but it is interwoven with the strings of the kora. We both like to play this way, everything is in the listening and the rhythm. For this, you have to know each other well.
Tell us about some of the songs that mean the most to you and why?
Everything has a place in this album. There are standard mandingo pieces like ‘Chamber Music’, new creations from Ballaké that have nothing to do with tradition like ‘Houdesti’ (we play this one with Ballaké’s two very good friends Mahamadou Kamissoko et Fassery Diabaté), and more mesmerizing pieces like ‘Oscarine’, or pieces with colours from French Britain like ‘Molly’. We can play together for hours, this album is thus a testimony to the way we play.
What have you learned?
I learn everyday. I’ve been working music for 37 years now, but I am more calm today than when I was 20. It took me some time to understand the incredible feeling of Malian music that I’ve been studying since I met Cheik Tidiane Seck, my next door neighbour in Pigale (Paris) in 1987 when he was playing with Salif. I was 20 years old, he taught me a lot of things and I’m happy to feature on Salif Keita’s album 23 years later. Patience, patience, patience..
What are you going to be doing next (musically)?
This year Ballaké and I want to play everywhere, just for the pleasure of it. The album is a moment full of magics, but it is also so good to play together.