Ellika Solo Rafael

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Ellika Solo Rafael
Country and Eastern, Sweden

A number of years back, Swedish fiddler Ellika Frisell and Senegalese kora player Solo Cissokho teamed up to make the remarkable Tretakt/Takissiba, and followed up with Abaraka/Tack! Both were gorgeous, lively and nuanced collaborations between two disparate traditions that through the simple act of listening, turned into interesting "world music fusions." Now, we have Now, their 2013 release that expands the duo to a trio, with Mexican percussionist Rafael Sida Huizar adding rhythms from all three of their cultures.

I have often talked about the simple charm and strength of acoustic trios, of their ability to listen closely and weave around one another, each musician playing off the next, adding and subtracting until they find the right sum. This trio seems to have an intuitive ability to achieve that goal of simultaneous unity and individuality. The instruments themselves seem made for one another. The percussive nature of the kora merges with the percussion, the runs and trills of the fiddle and the kora clash, diverge and merge as if they were dancers. And the melodies of three worlds, which would logically seem to be at odds with one another, fit together as if they were actually born in the same small village on any one of their continents.

I'd mention a "stand out track" but to be honest, they all stand out. There's the perfect Afro-Nordic blend of the first track, "Brudpolska efter Janissa Per Hansson," where the opening lines of the traditional fiddle tune from Orsa slowly evolves into a strange dance that is part Cuban groove, part griot's story and still somehow true to the Swedish root. This could describe numerous other tracks in the set, like the original Cissokho/Frisell composition "Saya/Vägen," another slow building beauty that takes nine minutes to unfold its secrets.

There are a few surprises, too. Sida Huizar's "Casesola" which, while inspired by his visit to Cissokho's home village, could just as easily have evolved in the streets of a small town in Mexico. Perhaps the hit single (if there could be such a thing here) could be "Dolo/Porque Se Fué." Dolo means alcohol, and Cissokho wrote it as a warning about the dangers of excess. But he also quotes from a popular teen-car-crash ballad from the 60s who's refrain many of us will recognize as the Spanish version of "Oh where, oh where, can my baby be? The lord took her away from me. She's gone to heaven, so I've got to be good, so I can see my baby when I leave this world." It's a marvelous and mischievous fusion.

Now is, simply put, a success and one of my picks for recording of the year. - CF


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