Bará is a trio based in Europe, but the music has roots that spread much wider. Vocalist and ngoni player Baba Sissoko hails from Mali and his original songs call on that country's rich traditions. Percussionist Afra Mussawisade was born in Iran where he studied Persian classical music but he moved to Europe as a child, soon becoming exposed to other musical styles. Jozef Dumoulin, on keyboards, is Belgian. He began his career studying jazz piano but his inspiration now comes from a much broader musical field. All three musicians have worked with a wide range of international musicians in concerts and recording and have played together before, but this is their first venture recording as a trio. The result is an album that sounds fresh, varied and rather special. Whilst each musician makes his own distinct contribution to the sound, there is a sense of unity and purpose in the music that belies the differences between them.
The album kicks off with an electronic flurry from Dumoulin, quickly joined by Sissoko riffing on the ngoni, the warm acoustic string sound immediately creating an effective contrast. Then Mussawisade comes in, locking into the groove but adding sparkling fills in a way that is to characterize his approach to much of the album. Sissoko's vocal soars above the rhythms, with his own added backing vocals, though in live concerts they have others on stage in support. Towards the end of the track Dumoulin provides a searing free-form keyboard solo before giving way to some final vocalizing and a fade-out on the keyboard pattern with which the track began.
Sissoko's ngoni is present pretty much throughout the recording, sometimes discreetly with the ear being drawn more towards the vocals and the cross-rhythms of the percussion, but its repetitive ostinato patterns play a crucial role in keeping everything moving along. When the ngoni does come to the fore, before everything else kicks in as it does on “Teri Ya Ba," it's always a great moment.
Jozef Dumoulin plays electronic and electric keyboards on the album, in particular a Fender Rhodes piano. At times his predilection for jazz phrasing and improvisation comes through, especially on his solos, as in “Yalla Yalla." It can come as a surprise to be transported back to the sound of 1970s Chick Corea and Weather Report, but it works.
Afra Mussawisade is a fine and innovative percussionist and he brings great character to the album. Having begun playing in Iran he later studied Latin American percussion in the Netherlands and then in Cuba before travelling several times to India to study South Indian percussion. He has succeeded in bringing these diverse influences together to create his own voice which always makes complete musical sense on this recording, exciting and varied playing, up-front but never getting in the way.
What makes this album work so well is the way these three musicians have managed to create a musically integrated sound without needing to compromise their individual styles. Mussawisade's percussive energy and inventiveness shines through while Sissoko's vocals often show considerable restraint, with the call and response exchanges sounding almost devotional at times. Meanwhile, Dumoulin's keyboard brings modernity into the mix, sometimes taking off into flights of fancy before returning to the fold for some unobtrusive accompaniment.
“Griot en vacances" is a particularly joyous track, with a rippling rhythm pattern from Sissoko's ngoni interweaving with Dumoulin's keyboard which comes close to emulating the same sound. Meanwhile Mussawisade plays across it with snapping fills on what may be timbales and Sissoko sings a lilting lyric over the top. It's one of the highlights of a fine album.
Find the artists online