When Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Ségal perform at the North Beach Bandshell this Sunday, they’ll do so under the cover of a shadow of nativism and xenophobia that has engulfed the United States. The celebrated world-music duo will perform as the first featured act of the Rhythm Foundation’s ongoing March presentation, Axis of Love, a series of concerts dedicated to showcasing the music and work of international artists from conflict zones. Far from a conventional pairing – the array of sounds conjured by Sissoko’s kora and Segal’s cello alone is staggering – Segal, who's from France, and Sissoki, who's from the western African country of Mali, represent the best of what the fruits of collaboration can bear.
In advance of their show, Ségal spoke with New Times about the nature of his and Sissoko’s collaboration, what lies ahead in their work, and what he enjoys about Miami music.
New Times: Since releasing music together as a duo, the two of you have managed to attain a level of popular success that seems to elude other musicians playing in a classical or world template. What do you think has set the two of you, and your two releases, apart?
Vincent Ségal: First of all, it is not managed at all. We just play together with a lot of love and friendship and a concept of not forcing anything, just playing as naturally as possible. We liked the idea that chamber music is not just made for classical music, but for any kind of music, even hip-hop. [We enjoy] the concept of playing with a just a few people around us [in] an intimate setting, like the painter Vermeer.
Both of your musical histories are filled to the brim with collaborations that involved a larger number of players. Having now written and toured together for several years, how does collaborating as a duo stack up to other creative endeavors?
It is incomparable. Ballaké and I and a few other friends are like a strong family. The way we play onstage in a way is very different from collaborations with other musicians you like and respect. In their company, you can’t always get what you want.
Since joining forces with Ballaké, have you been surprised by how strongly non-Malian audiences have responded to your work?
In a way, yes, and it’s always a blessing. But when you are a musician, you first play for yourself and for the drug the music gives you. And we always love to listen to music even if we are not playing.
Although much of the conversation around your projects surrounds how seamless all of it sounds, are there any challenges or creative difficulties that listeners have overlooked, or is it really as seamless as you make it seem?
It should be easy, but it isn’t for me. As a child, I always had an imagination, but I wasn’t precise enough. And since then, I have had to practice and practice, again and again and again. But playing together with Ballaké, it has always been easy.
Is this the first Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Ségal performance in Miami? Have your travels brought either of you to Miami previously, and if so, what impression did you leave with of the city?
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We played in 2013 at the Little Haiti Cultural Center. I really like Miami because, as a musician, there is cultural diversity. There is a lot of music in Miami that I really like: Criteria Studios, salsa, kompas, etc.
Having released Musique de Nuit in 2015, what lies ahead for the two of you? Is this collaboration your primary focus for the foreseeable future? What can Miami audiences look forward to in your coming March performance?
As I said, the duo is like family. We don’t make plans like they do in business; it’s just there. When you talk with family, you don’t think about albums or venues or whatever. It just happens.
Axis of Love Concert Series
Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Ségal, Riyaaz Qaqqali ,and Tarek Abdallah & Adel Shams el Din . 7 p.m. Sunday, March 5, through Sunday, March 26, at the North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; rhythmfoundation.com/series/axis-of-love; 305-672-5202. Tickets cost $24.60 per show via seetickets.us.