Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba had the audience it deserved Friday night: a Cradle full of people who know the band, and passionately share in its music. This CD release party for its eponymous second CD, which translates “Kaira Ba” as The Great Peace, turned out more of a euphoric frenzy. Fully in command, the 6-piece plus special guests enjoyed the richly deserved moment, three years since their inaugural show at the Nightlight in February 2011.
The throbbing pulse of Orquesta GarDel had only recently faded, and salsa dancers ebbed from the floor, as we waited for Kaira Ba to set up and go on. GarDel played a strong opening set, with its out-of-town members Brevan Hampden (timbales) and Andy Kleindienst (trombone), both on sabbatical to attend grad school, in the house and representing. Some of these faces—conguero Atiba Rorie, saxophonist Tim Smith—would stick around to lend an assist later.
Two koras with their gourd shells ornamented, one with a beautiful painting of Africa, the other studded with the name KAIRABA, leaned in repose at a place of honor center stage. Corralled around them: a panoply of hand drums of different sizes and origins—sabar, thiol, djembes, congas, dundun, calabash. Amps, guitars, drumset and upright bass set the stage to ready mode. Grabbing prime spots near the edge of the stage, Kaira Ba’s international fanbase came ready to party in looks that ranged from jeans and beards, to palazzo pants and sequined halter tops, tweed hats and hand dyed finery.
The members of the band came onstage drumming, also sporting diverse attire from skinny ties, pearl-button shirts and Converse to bare feet and vibrant patchwork garments. The same Senegalese patchwork fabric provided the cover art for the album, and probably speaks to the band’s grown together, hybrid Carolina-African roots.
Running tunes from the new album took us to Senegal right away, starting with the upbeat “Fallou” and “Bamba Wotena.” Some Americans pogo’ed, while a few Wolof speakers in the crowd got Cissokho’s references to people and places back home and sang along. For the third tune, Cissokho’s wife Hilary emerged to sing soprano backup and maintained that role. Cissokho’s kora and John Westmoreland’s guitar conversed back and forth, and the percussion powerhouse of Austin McCall, Will Ridenour, and at times even bassist Jonathan Henderson, was shored up by the group’s newest member, Mame Cheikh Njigal Dieng. Dieng, a professional musician from Senegal, recently moved to Durham and recorded on The Great Peace.
“We had the music written by the time Cheikh came in, but there were a few songs where we had hit some walls,” said Ridenour, post-show, about the Fidelitorium sessions. “He said, ‘why don’t you try this?’ Suddenly there were no walls anymore.”
Gabriele Pelli recreated his role as a guest on the session at the CD release party, adding haunting fiddle motifs to the spiritual tour de force “Alanole” (“No One Can Know God.”) Cissokho paused then to say his thank yous, while Ridenour retuned his kora for another intense slowburner, “Mere Khadi.” A horn set followed, with trumpeter Zack Rider, trombonist Quran Karriem, and saxophonist Tim Smith elevating the soul revue aspect of tunes like “Al Hadji” and “Mbolo.” If anything, this move was even more successful live than on the album, and one can hope to hear more brass in Kaira Ba’s future.
An encore set began with “Sida” (“AIDS”), an understated reverie featuring kora, guitar and Pelli’s violin, before taking a turn for the rambunctious. The band pumped a carnaval-like backbeat as a shirtless Cissokho bathed his face and body in a pile of broken glass, jumping and rolling around in a fearsome display. The celebratory night closed with “Jabu,” a rouser from the first CD Resonance, which ties Cissokho’s love for his family in Senegal to the love he feels for, and from, U.S. audiences.
The post-show love fest included not only friends, but total strangers offering the band members their thanks, pressing the flesh and getting CDs signed. A lot of bands say they are going to take their sophomore album to the next level; Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba worked hard to actually do that, and it shows.