Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan (World Circuit)
You can be forgiven for thinking that the teaming of a traditional African group and a string quartet is a terrible idea. In many cases, it would be. But Ladilikan, by Mali’s Trio Da Kali and Seattle’s Kronos Quartet, is an unalloyed success, and an undeniably moving one.
Some of the reasons for the combos’ compatibility are technical. For instance, Trio Da Kali’s main instruments have corollaries in Western orchestration; they include the balafon, a variation on the xylophone, and the bass ngoni, a type of lute. Moreover, the Kronos Quartet specializes in making impossible collaborations possible, as witnessed by a discography that includes both Texas yodeler Don Walser and rockers Nine Inch Nails. Somehow, though, the chemistry they exhibit still feels unexpected, and that gives the performances a wonderful jolt.
“Tita” sets the mood via an austere arrangement that allows the quartet — violinists David Harrington and John Sherba, violist Hank Dutt and cellist Sunny Yang — to interact organically with the balafon of Fodé Lassana Díabaté and the bass ngoni of Mamadou Kouyaté. These gorgeous sounds provide the ideal backdrop for Hawa Kassé Mady Diabaté, whose vocals are deep in every sense of the word, as well as timeless. Her language of choice is Bambara, which is widely used in Mali, so most listeners will have no idea that one line of the lyrics translates to “Passion is too powerful.” But the message comes through loud and clear anyway.
A number of instrumental sections stand out on the album, including the stirring opening passage of “Garaba Mama,” the contrapuntalism of “Kene Bo” and the tumbling balafon solo that lures the listener into “Sunjata.” But despite its variety of tones and tempos, Ladilikan is best appreciated as a complete statement — one that proves terrible ideas can sometimes yield astonishing results.