In some parts of Africa you are born into music. Musicians playing in West Africa today share surnames - Diabaté, Kouyaté, Cissoko - with ancestors who have handed down craft and songs to their heirs for centuries. They are the griots: the musical caste. With that history, if you're a Cissoko then you are born to play the kora - the 21-stringed instrument that is a cross between a harp and a guitar and which has the sweetest, most hypnotising sound.
Ba Cissoko, however, is a maverick. Not satisfied with traditional griot ballads, he has put together a band, invited the hippest African musicians as his guests into the studio, and with his cousin, kora player Sekou Kouyaté, plugged koras into wah-wah pedals, backed them with driving beats and thick, throbbing bass and created an exciting, compelling sound.
The opening electronic bleeps on the eponymous "Griot Ba" dissolve into repetitive strikes on the balafon xylophone and delicate, intricate kora plucking, displaying this marriage of old and new. The style builds through the record and embraces Somalian rapper K'Naan, who injects some street into "Silani", and the guitar playing of Amadou Bagayoko of Amadou & Mariam, which transforms the traditional griot song "Allah Lake" into the standout sensual track of the record. But it is the closing song, "Sora (Le Nom De La Kora Est Cissoko)", where with a flick of his musical wrist over the kora strings and gently persuasive singing that Cissoko seduces the listener with his undeniably original sound.
Nodding in the title to Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland, Cissoko makes his own kora haze and reinvents griot traditions just as Hendrix reshaped the blues for a new generation: a rebel heart with African roots.