Womex Showcase profile: Cissokho System

BBC World Music Award winner Solo Cissokho and his vibrant Senegalese/Norwegian combo Cissokho system are set to play a long-awaited showcase at the upcoming Womex trade fair in Essen, Germany. Learn more on the Oslo-based kora master here.

Solo Cissokho

He’s received a BBC World Music Award, been nominated for the Nordic Council’s Music Prize, released acclaimed albums, played with Youssou N’Dour and Ali Farka Touré and toured relentlessly in Norway and abroad. Oslo-based Solo Cissokho has come a long way since he built his first kora at the age of seven. Now he’s heading for WOMEX to play a showcase with his Cissokho System ensemble.

Solo Cissokho belongs to the Mandinka-people, a minority that makes up 3% of the population in his country of birth. Solo hails from Ziguichor in Senegal’s Casamance district, and was born into a family that has seen the art of kora playing passed from generation to generation through more than 700 years. Other well-known performers from his family include Baka Beyond’s Kausu Kouyate and Seckou Keita. Cissokho maintains a strong and vivid tradition as a griot, a scald that transmits his people’s history, comments on various aspects of his community and accompanies key social events. Solo was introduced to the 21-string harp at the tender age of 7. Says Cissokho of the early days, “I began my career by building my own kora. That way you really learn the characteristics of your instrument.” The first attempts at playing it were accompanied by cries of frustration. “It was so difficult to reach all 21 strings with just four fingers!”

Last year, Solo Cissokho was awarded one of his career’s highest distinctions: the BBC World Music Award in the Boundary Crossing category. The release that earned him this prestigious award was the 2002 Tretakt Takissaba album that featured Cissokho and Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell fusing spacious Scandinavian folk music with the African harp’s rich timbre.

Solo’s latest release is the acclaimed Cissokho System album Kaïra, which was recently released on respected Norwegian independent label NORCD. Kaïra features an African/Norwegian line-up of highly competent musicians exploring the rhythmic and harmonic opportunities inherent in the West-African mbalax style. Mbalax features rich polyrhythmic patterns and infectious melody lines – almost an African counterpart to Brasilian samba given the joie de vivre the two styles share. Kaira also showcases some more quiet and introspective passages with spirited guitar/kora interplay and highly melodic vocals.

Cissokho System are scheduled to play an off-WOMEX showcase on Thursday 28 October at 21:00 hrs in Hall 23 PACT.

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