25-05-2024 Music 34

Nicole Mitchell and Ballaké Sissoko - Bamako*Chicago Sound System

Nicole Mitchell and Ballaké Sissoko - Bamako*Chicago Sound System

Renowned flutist, former AACM chair, Nicole Mitchell, and innovative kora player, Bamako's musical ambassador, Ballaké Sissoko have both defied conventions in their respective genres; Mitchell’s Afrofuturist sound and cosmic ethic and Sissoko's integration of guitar progressions into kora compositions. Both push traditional forms into new spaces. Both bring a rich history of collaboration across various genres.

The magic began during a 2014 residency in the swanky suburbs of Paris, France, at the splendiferous Royaumont. Then, their host Frederic Duval suggested the rather awkward working title “Beyond Black". Three years later, with modest funding, Bamako musicians arrived in Chicago, and the project adopted a more fitting name inspired by a conversation between Mitchell and celebrated cultural critic/musician, Greg Tate: Bamako*Chicago Sound System.

Their musical collaboration echoes fusion artists like Foday Musa Suso and Herbie Hancock, yet it forges a unique path with a blend of depth and frequency more closely relatable to Alice Coltrane's lesser-known blues/’occidental’ music, such as “Galaxy in Turia” and “Er Ra”, along with the nuanced and celebrated Journey in Satchidananda. Like Coltrane, this album is transformative, taking listeners to other worlds through sonic transference. Ballaké’s post-traditional innovative writing leaves ample space for interpretation and breath, complementing Nicole's layered, complex otherworldly compositions.

The entire album embodies the African griot traditions of call and response, rooted in the Black Amerikan blues/jazz lineage. Some songs arouse the feeling of Bamako serenading Chicago through Malian streets and home-grown stories, creating a traditional yet powerfully sensory experience, reflecting a rich ancient culture. Other times, it feels like Chicago is guiding Bamako on a similar journey, as when Mitchell's butterfly-like, pied-piper build leads us through sonic ebbs and flows, echoing Chicago's deep blues and jazz roots.

Bamako*Chicago Sound System will be available in CD and digital format from FPE Records August 23, 2024.

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