Saturday, March 19, 2016


Your mind is inside this music, Just enter it.


You will be surprised, if you do not know that instrument already, by the kora, this Mandinka musical instrument used by Jalis in Western Africa, in the old Mali Empire of the 13th century. It is considered as a harp of sorts though the structure is more that of a banjo but with normally 21 strings that are picked by both hands, in fact by two fingers (thumb and pointer) of both hands on both sides of the two sets of strings separated on the bridge, left and right. This instrument cannot use a bow of any kind.

That explains the second surprise in this recording. The kora is associated to a cello that can be vastly used with a bow, as well as picked with the fingers of one hand, right or left according to the lateral orientation of the musician, though why not both hand bass-wise. Then you can have long notes and the contrast between the two instruments that are in fact rather close in range is fascinating.

But this determines an extremely important characteristic of this music. The kora itself is a polyrhythmic instrument since each hand can have their own rhythms. You add the cello and you naturally have three possible rhythms that can be different or coordinated in contrast or in phase  and that polyrhythmic music is the trade mark of African music that was imported into Western music by the African slaves in America, in the Americas  And this polyrhythmic music is mesmerizing indeed for our mind because we are so used to western classical monorhythmic music that we find it at first difficult to penetrate this music, and yet let yourself go and let your mind be taken by it and you will find yourself in a universe that has at least four or five dimensions, three spatial dimensions and two more temporal relations, coordination of several time lines and the rhythmic dimension that is multiple too.

Note this particular recording does not work so much on the fast and trance-like rhythm of Vodun or Voodoo music that originated from Western Africa too. At times there is like an embryo of this musical trance inducing rhythm, but only an embryo, a budding hardly sprouting emergence that is of course hypnotizing your mind into that new dimension, an inner dimension that can take you so deep in your own mind that you may think the whole universe is at the tips of your mental fingers. Welcome to the animistic soul of cosmic life.

Only one piece has what we would call lyrics in the West, but these words are the inheritance from what this instrument, the kora I mean, was used for in traditional Africa. It was the instrument of the Jali, this man in the village, and in the whole Mali Empire, had the memory of history, laws, births and deaths, the memory of the whole society that was developing within an exclusively oral civilization. This Jali, often called Griot, was also the poet and the religious or spiritual voice that could speak to spirits and gods, and ha was also the story teller of traditional stories that he could enrich, modify, develop, though he would not change one single word of the memory-oriented knowledge he kept for the future and transmitted from father to son, from kora player to kora player from Jali to Jali. Don’t believe this is unique to Africa. All civilizations were oral before being written. In Indo-European tradition that knowledge-retentive man was called the Rsi and he played exactly the same role in the community. But between 5000 and 3000 BCE in the Middle East they invented writing and this oral dimension was essentially lost. So try to recuperate it, though this CD is not very representative of this dimension because there is practically no text.

The last thing we can say is of course that the bringing together of an African instrument and a European instrument has a meaning in today’s world: do not merge but crisscross the various traditions into original culture. I will regret here the fact that the traditional African scales, traditional African intervals, what I consider the very disquieting intervals that sound so minor to us and in fact are basic in African music are not exploited as much as they should. In other words the kora is westernized slightly too much. Crisscrossing various cultural traditions is only effective when the various traditions keep their authenticity and become the warp and weft of the new fabric. Unluckily our world too often integrates one tradition into another and the one that is felt as superior absorbs the other. In this CD there are true moments of African music like in Samba Tomora, a very repetitive music that works on very subtle variations from one musical phrase to the next that is so similar and yet is slightly different, even when it is pure repetition. That’s the most African side of this music, but I regret we do not have it more.


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