Solo and Aliou Cissokho, the founders of Cissokho System, belong to the Mandinka people. They are a minority in Senegal that only consists of 3% of the popåulation. Solo and Aliou are born in Ziguinchor, Casamance, south of the Gambia, in a jali (griot) family that has taught its members playing kora and telling the family history from generation to generation for almost a millenium. Solo is by the way the uncle of Seckou Keita, another well known kora player, for the time being settled in England and famous for his collaboration with Martin Cradick. Solo learnt to play kora in the village only 7 years of age. He has later been living in England as well as France, but these days he lives in Oslo, Norway.
In England the Cissokho family has another band, Jalikunda, meaning “the house of the jalis (griots)”. Solo occasionally also plays in this band, for instance on the WOMAD and Glastonbury festivals. Solo Cissokho has worked with Touré Kunda as well as Ali Farka Touré. He has also been working with cross over genres. In Norway he is known for his album “Frå Setesdal Til Senegal” with folk musicians Kirsten Bråten Berg and Bjørgulv Straume. Solo Cissokho has further cooperated with fiddlers from both India and Sweden, namely ethno jazz musician Larry Subramaniam and folkerocker Ellika Frisell, from the Swedish groups Filarfolket and Den Fule. The mix of three step polska and four step mbalax on the album “Tretakt Takissaba” resulted in an award for best album in the category “boundary crossing” in 2003, voted in by BBCs listeners.
However, Cissokho System is not only made up of members of the Cissokho family: Among other musicians in the band we find Kossa Diomande, who since 1975 has been playing in the Ivory Coast’s National Ballet orchestra. He is a specialist in yadoh, a set of five small and one big djembe drumt. Since he arrived in Norway he has been active with his band Super Djembe Kan. Olav Torget, Tonny Kluften and Harald Skullerud on respectevly guitar, bass and drums are Norwegian, but have been playing with African musicians for many years.
Cissokho System play a Mandinka-based form of mbalax, quite unlike the Wolof style of Youssou N’Dour. The Mandinkas are a minority in Senegal, in contrast with Mali where the Mandinka music traditions are far more dominant. The music of Cissokho System sounds like a jazzy version of Mansour Seck’s songs or maybe Kandia Kouyate’s cycle, “Biriko”.
“Kaira” starts with a terrific and energetic “Yirokoto”; from the very start this is at full power! The main characteristics of this music are tight and powerful bass playing by the Norwegian Tonny Kluften, backed by Kossa Diomanda on djembes, and Harald Skullerud on drums and percussion. In this massive backing Solo Cissokho improvises on kora and Olav Torget on guitar. It’s rhythmic (sic!), playful, and poetic enough to handle the wonderful sounds of the kora. Torget’s peepy guitar answers and supports the kora in excellent fashion. Solo Cissokho has a strong voice that is sometimes reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré or Mansour Seck. If anyone thinks this must be a sort of crossover music because there are 3 Norwegians and 3 Senegalese playing together, they are wrong. Torget, Kluften and Skullerud totally join in on the Senegalese premises – and they do it extremely well. They add something different that is indefinable. The way this music is improvised, with long solos plus the dialogue kora-solo guitar, makes it Afrojazz – as if the name really matters. Anyway, this is beautifully done; it really grabs you. Cissokho System very positively stand out with this album. They have managed to create something new and different. Highly recommended!