Album: 3 Ma (Sterns Music 2008)
Musicians: Rajery (valiha), Ballaké Sissoko (kora), and Driss El Maloumi (oud)
?Beauty: the adjustment of all parts proportionately so that one cannot add or subtract or change without impairing the harmony of the whole.?
Leon Battista Alberti
Madagascar, Mali, Morocco
The whole thing was Rajery’s idea. At home in Madagascar he’d long been incubating a plan to join his valiha with other stringed instruments, but he didn’t find the right combo until he met Toumani Diabaté at the 2006 Timitar festival in Agadir, Morocco. That’s when he realized that the kora would be a perfect complement. Later, when Rajery performed with Moroccan oud maestro El Maloumi, he decided that the oud would be the ideal third leg. Diabaté was unable to join the project because of his schedule, so they brought in his compatriot Sissoko to play the kora in his stead.
Not only could an exquisite musical tapestry be woven, but the collaboration would also constitute an intercultural exchange that was totally new yet which at the same time reflected the long history of interaction among the peoples represented. ?3Ma? refers to these musicians? three countries, whose names begin with ?Ma?: Madagascar, Mali, and Morocco (the latter begins with ?Ma? in its French spelling, Maroc).
Putting it all together was a little more complicated. The oud shares a common ancestor with the lute, as well as an etymology (Europeans got the name ?lute? from the French l?oud). The valiha is a kind of tubelike zither, and the kora (my latest obsession) looks like a crude lute with a longer neck and a larger, rounder body. The strings, rather than lying flat as on most stringed instruments, are suspended in consecutive order over the body to make what looks like a harp That’s played with only the thumb and forefinger of one hand. When you hear it played, though, you’ll swear there are at least a dozen fingers involved.
Yet despite the instruments? similarity, there are some significant differences. The valiha plays a chromatic scale (12 tones, each a halftone apart), while the oud and the kora are diatonic (the eight-note scale of tones and halftones familiar to Europeans and North Americans). The three musicians had to spend practically eons together working out how to harmonize their instruments. I do believe they did it.
While it does sound like the groundbreaking musical event that it is, there’s nary a trace of an ?experimental? quality; It’s like these guys have played together in past lives. 3Ma sounds refined, inventive, and wholly delightful, and as sweet, rich, and classic as attar of roses.
A dab of political commentary makes it even more interesting. In the aptly named final track, ?Discours de président d?Afrique,? manic fast runs are followed by some scat singing meant to imitate mindless dialogue.
Like so much of the music from Africa’s northwest, there is something transcendent about 3Ma; It’s the kind of music that whispers in your ear that in spite of all the horrors that may take place, It’s still a beautiful world.