Vincent Segal / Ballaké Sissoko

Chamber Music

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Upon seeing the title Chamber Music, some people might assume that this 55-minute CD contains European classical music performed by a chamber group. But Chamber Music is actually an album of traditional African music, albeit traditional African music with Euro-classical overtones at times. The main participants are Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal, who form an acoustic duo. On some selections, they are joined by additional participants; for example, Malian-born singer Awa Sangho joins them on "Regret -- A Kader Barry." But for the most part, Chamber Music (which was recorded in 2009 in a studio in Bamako, Mali) is an album of instrumental duets -- and those duets have the moody, hypnotic approach that traditional Malian music (as opposed to modern Malian pop) is known for. Some purists might argue that if the classically trained Segal (an ex-member of the National Orchestra of France) is bringing Euro-classical overtones to some of the material, Chamber Music isn't really traditional African music. But this acoustic recording isn't quite African pop either, and Sissoko and Segal certainly keep things rootsy on Sissoko's compositions as well as Segal's. Earthiness is the rule on Sissoko offerings like "Halinkata Djoubé," "Wo Yé N'Gnougobine," "Mako Mady," and "Future" as well as the three songs that Segal contributes: "Oscarine," "Histoire de Molly," and "'Ma-Ma' FC." And Segal's Euro-classical overtones never really detract from that overall earthiness, although they do add to the intrigue factor. Besides, Segal's background isn't strictly in European classical music; he has also been exploring rock, trip-hop, and different types of world music, and he sounds perfectly comfortable playing alongside a traditional Malian kora player. Sissoko and Segal's collaboration yields consistently absorbing results on the excellent Chamber Music.

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