The Observer (Kampala)

24 February 2013

Uganda: The Cissokos Thrill Kampala

Senegalese Maher Cissoko and Sweden's Sousou Cissoko share a unique musical heritage and destiny, which blew away Bayimba's Faisal Kiwewa when he first watched them perform in Europe.

And when he learnt of their planned performance at this year's Sauti Za Busara music festival in Zanzibar, he made quick arrangements to have them pass by Kampala before returning to Stockholm. The young singing couple was in Kampala on Friday and performed live at Mish Mash in Kololo to a sizeable audience of mainly whites.

A ticket cost Shs 50,000 and for sure, you couldn't have regretted spending that much on a band that is little known here. The stage was simple - I wonder when the culture of giving the best stages to mediocre artistes who dupe Ugandans by miming instead of talented artistes like Maher and Sousou, will stop. It was 8pm. Guests were enjoying Tusker malt lager, which went for only Shs 3,000.

Wearing an African shirt complete with a beret, Maher armed with a kora took to the stage accompanied by his wife on the acoustic guitar. Backed by an experienced bassist, drum player and percussionist on the renowned Senegalese traditional drums known as Saba, it was a minimalistic band. Apparently, Maher had lost his kora, which fell down and broke, but this couldn't stop him. He borrowed one from our own Joel Sebunjo. But he had to wait for a technician to feed it into the system.

Sousou had already rolled off the show with Alalake, a West African traditional folk song, which means that everything happens for a reason and is made by God. But for a while, it was clear she was missing her better half. However, once his kora was sorted, you could see the smile on the young couple's faces as they settled down to treat us to great music.

The combination of the rhythmic energy of the kora, together with intimate vocals makes their music one to remember. The logical explanation to the magic of their music is that their talents are limited by no boundary. For example, if Sousou has not hooked you with her smooth voice, then you can't miss her intoxicating guitar skills. Yet when she gets onto the kora, she knows which strings to touch to get her husband crazy.

It sometimes felt like love on stage as the couple communicated to each other either on the instruments or vocally. Most of their songs were in Mandinka and Wolof, and it was amazing how Sousou flawlessly exhibited her vocal ability in the two languages. And she also taught us some words like Namuso Mbalaka meaning thank you mama - as belted out in Alisintu, a song that praises a Senegalese woman who played a great role in the fight against French colonialism.

The band took a short break before Maher returned for a solo act on the kora. He was later joined by the entire band, with his wife this time round also playing the kora. Sebunjo chipped in, playing the lead vocal role on two songs; Miriyamba and another one composed by Maher.

Well, when you have such great vocalists on stage, to bring in Sebunjo is such a great test. But with his strong voice, Sebunjo proved to them one thing; he can get the guests on their feet, and we saw Maher moving around the stage whispering to his wife and bassist as he smiled.

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