Music Review: Kora Jazz Band in Paris

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Building on the release of a recent album, Kora Jazz Band and their brand new line-up delivered a fiery performance at the New Morning in Paris. I obviously would not have missed it for anything. Here’s my verdict.

As soon as I entered the jam-packed venue, I could not help but sensing a general impression that a very unique event was about to take place. On stage were lying congas, piano, timpani, steel pans and of course a kora, a lute typically played by West African griots.

This quite varied instrumental panel, pertaining as much to West Africa and Europe as to the Caribbean, left the musical direction of the night totally open. A feeling of curiosity then emerged as the musicians kept the crowd waiting.

Saying that the wait was worth it might almost sound like a huge understatement. The blend of sounds and influence that came forth right from the start gave the impression of a gigantic adventure throughout several continents.

Solos flew together seamlessly, the musicians improvised, responded to one another in a permanent dialogue where music became a means of expression. That’s what jazz can do.

The Kora

The percussionist slightly stood out from the rest of the band. His sequences of beats accompanied with light dances fully captivated the audience’s attention, a well-deserved distinction.

On a personal level, even though I have to admit I’m not a usual fan of steel pans – not to fall in love with the instrument after that night would come close to being impossible. The melodies coming out of it simply released a widespread enthusiasm in the whole venue.

Where was the kora, some might think? Yakhouba Sissoko made it the driving force of the performance. The solos might have stayed slightly in the background, but its musical grace turned out to be an ingredient inseparable from the performance’s success.

A few guests also featured during the night, including Jean-Philippe Rykiel, a well-established French musician who further illuminated the night with his usual subtle touch on the synthesizer.

In the end, it was just a great night that ended too early in spite of the late hour. Their next concert will be performed in Guyane. Meanwhile, we hope to see them in the UK soon enough.

About Nicolas Roux

Nicolas specializes in writing on African and Arabic arts and is currently based in France, but has previously worked in Canada and the UK. He is a former co- host of Amandla, an African current affairs programme in Montreal and is a regular contributor to the online magazine Touki.

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