Transcending the Trends
Listening Post 327. The elements of contemporary music—performers, instruments, genres, modes of consumption—are at the mercy of changeable tastes and racing technology. But consider the extraordinary endurance of West Africa’s griots, musical bearers of history and lore who have kept their art relevant for more than 500 years. Likely explanations for their survival include heredity (griot status passing from parent to child); the timeless thirst for the communication and interpretation they offer (royal praise singers and genealogists of old, lyrical guardians of culture and ethics today); and the kora—the core griot instrument—combining features of lute and harp for an embracing folk-classical sound. Among modern griot artists, few can match Maher Cissoko for the distance he has carried this tradition: He learned the kora from his father and met Sousou Cissoko, his Swedish-born wife, when she came to study kora in the family’s Senegal home; they now live in Sweden, have done four albums as a duo and performed on four continents. Cissoko Heritage, Maher’s second solo album, is a sumptuous culmination of what he calls “Mande fusion,” merging griot custom with Afro-beat, Afro-pop, reggae, dancehall and Senegalese mbalax, his kora at the center of a string-percussion ensemble, his mellow voice (in Mandinka and Wolof) singing about love, humility and the supreme value of giving support to and accepting it from others. The “solo” designation notwithstanding, the album features vocal participation by Sousou and the couple’s daughter, Awa. Cissoko echoes West African symbolism with the traditional Miniyamba (The Big Snake, video 1); posits work and prayer as the recipe for success in Dor Waar (Hustle, video 2); and warns against jealousy in Sokhor (Madness, video 3). He channels universal emotions in Thiossane (Heritage, video 4) and with his homage to Mama (video 5). For as long as he taps humanity’s musical wellsprings, Cissoko—and his fellow griots—will surely upstage the trends. (Ajabu! Records)
Maher Cissoko: Cissoko Heritage
Maher Cissoko: Vocals, Kora, tama, kadinjango
Sousou Cissoko: Vocals, keyboard
Awa Cissoko: Vocals
Ahmed Fofana: Guitar, bass, keyboard, fulani flute, percussion
Andreas Unge: Bass
Samba Ndokh Mabaye: Sabar, tama
Miniyamba / The Big Snake
Sung in Mandinka
From the album notes: In Africa, not all associations with snakes are negative. This traditional West African song compares the beauty of a woman to the sinuous movement and decorative markings of a python.
Dor Waar / The Hustler
From the lyrics in Wolof
Let’s go to work/Hustle
What you don’t have/Pray for it and you will get it
When you don’t have money, pray to God/And work for it!
Man is good/Woman is good (and equal)
Human character should be respectful and graceful/I don’t want to steal, I dont want to lie
I just want to fight for success and money in a positive way/And work, hustle and be inspired
Sokhor / Madness
Sung in Wolof
Don’t be jealous of your people or your friends. If someone is doing well and good, support them. Don’t think ill of them. Don’t be jealous or negative toward them.
Thiossane / Heritage
Sung in Wolof
You have to take care of your heritage, value and honor it… Men and women, let’s dance together.
Sung in Mandinka
From the album notes: Thank you mama for all your love, for carrying me through pregnancy to taking care of me. I can never pay you back. Dedicated to my mother, Bintou Konte.