It’s hard to imagine any better way to spend an hour than listening to French cellist Vincent Segal and Malian kora master Ballake Sissoko.
Except maybe for spending an hour listening to Cedric Watson, Dirk Powell, and their band perform Cajun and Creole classics.
The two acts are sharing the stage four times as part of the Savannah Music Festival’s African Blues & Creole-Cajun Crossroads (a name that would have been more fitting if Boubacar Traore had not changed his scheduled, which brought Segal and Sissoko back to Savannah).
And here’s maybe where you should stop reading this brief review and skip on over to the SMF site and see if you can buy tickets for either of the shows Saturday evening at the Morris Center.
I was lucky to see — and review — Segal and Sissoko’s performance at the 2011 Savannah Music Festival. At that Lucas Theatre gig, there was a certain visual spectacle to the two men and two stringed instruments isolated on the big stage.
At the intimate Morris Center, you can get almost as close as you want. And the closer the better — the 21-stringed kora is a beautiful instrument, but I did not expect to see such loving wear on it and its stand. Audiences are cheated a little by the kora since the instrument — which produces a sound somewhere in the world of both a harp and banjo — faces its player. But it’s still stunning to see Sissoko play.
Segal, by contrast, tends to look around at the audience, often with a slightly mischievous look. He knows they’ve got you.
The set was comprised of traditional Malian songs, one Brazilian piece, an original composition, among others. Toward the end, Segal took one of his bow strings and tied it meticulously to one of the cello strings — the result was a sound I didn’t know a cello could make.
After a really brief intermission, Cedric Watson and Dirk Powell were on stage, ready to play. Soon they were joined by harmonica player Grant Dermody, frottoir (rubboard) player Desiree Champagne, and a percussionist whose name I missed.
By the time they were halfway through the set, Powell had played fiddle, accordion, banjo, and guitar. Watson would play accordion, fiddle, and a Native American drum that he acquired on Thursday night at a dance party.
Of course, the Watson/Powell set later tonight might have been very different — and you might see something different on Saturday too. The ensemble had no set list and briefly chatted after each song about what they’d play next — swapping instruments around as necessary.
It was a bit of artful unpredictability from superbly talented and confident musicians. Watson’s vocals were a little stronger than Powell’s, but both voices evoked rich histories.
But this was no simple visit to the past for the sake of the past: every few minutes, Watson’s eyes and smile would brighten like a kid who has just discovered the most exciting thing ever.
Here are Sissoko and Segal at their Tiny Desk Concert at NPR’s All Songs Considered: