April Records

Dawda Jobarteh – Kora; Stefan Pasbord – Drums

In an interview with Danish drummer Stefan Pasborg, he said music should be a combination of everything. “I love surf music and Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and Elvis Presley.” So his collaboration with kora player, Dawda Jobarteh seems only natural. LIVE IN TURKU was recorded last year at a festival in Finland.

I didn’t know much about the kora, so I had to do some digging. It has 21 or 22 strings. You play it with your thumb and the pointing finger of each hand. There are two handles that your other three fingers control. Tuning a kora can be problematic because they’re made with natural materials; a calabash gourd and an animal skin, so moisture in the air can affect the tuning. And I thought learning how to play a six-string guitar was hard!

A griot is a West African storyteller, musician, and oral historian. They usually play the balafon, the ngoni, or the kora. Jobarteh grew up in a griot family, but he wanted to play drums. He did not start playing the kora until he moved to Denmark in 1999.

Pasborg’s drumming has been described as a mix of Art Blakey, Mitch Mitchell, and John Bonham. Add in his deep understanding of African music and you have the perfect foil for what Jobarteh does with a kora.

‘Better Git It In Your Soul ’is one of Charles Mingus’s better-known compositions from one of his best albums, AH UM. Mingus had seven musicians. The two on LIVE IN TURKU rival their beauty and intensity. The two are captivating. The drumming is a pulsating torrent. The kora sounds like a couple of competing rock guitarists but Jobarteh never lets us forget the original melody.

On Don Cherry’s ’Togo, ’Pasborg took Ed Blackwell’s beats and morphed them into a syncopated avalanche of sound. Jobarteh uses a lot of effects. The kora’s intro sounds like there is a waterfall nearby. He uses a wah-wah pedal, two different distortion pedals, an expression and reverb pedal, and a Strymon delay.

“Bamananyanke” is a traditional African song from Mali. Passborg somehow makes his percussion sound like a balafon, an instrument similar to a xylophone. Jobarteh’s playing is beautiful. There aren’t a lot of effects, maybe some reverb.

Pasborg’s ‘Folkman ’starts out sounding like an iconic rock anthem. The music gets louder and more passionate. The drumming sounds like Ginger Baker. The kora sounds like a trio of guitars rather than one stringed instrument.

As much as I admire these two musicians, I think something is missing. I would love to hear a bass player with these guys. I think the contrast between the deep resonance of the bass and the shimmering high notes of the kora would sound pretty special.