Nicknamed Balafon Mania, Balla Kouyate is considered to be among the greatest bala (balaphone) players in the world today. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments to get a chromatic scale, allowing him to play any genre of music in any key. His speed is astonishing as he moves effortlessly between the two balaphones, delivering his signature melodies and complex improvisations.
Balla began to play the bala at the age of six and did his first show in Bamako, Mali, at the Palais de la Culture with Malian singer Sanignai Kouyate.
In 1994 he became a member of the National Percussion of Mali. By 1997 he was granted the opportunity to play with singer Ami Koita at an international conference.
Balla has been featured on at least 45 albums including Angelique Kidjo’s ‘Oyo‘ and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning ‘Songs of Joy and Peace‘, and has collaborated with Mamadou Diabate, Susan McKeown, Vusi Mahlasela, Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool ensemble, and Schlicht’s Tempore.
Balla was awarded the 2010 Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Artist Fellowship for the Traditional Arts. In 2012 he received an Apprenticeship grant to begin teaching his son the jeli repertoire on the balafon.
His group, World Vision, is a fusion of his traditional music with Jazz, Blues, Cuban, and other genres. Their captivating melodies and rhythms have wowed audiences at festivals across the country including the 2009 Folk Art Market, the 2008 Lowell Folk Festival and the 2007 Chicago World Music Festival.
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.