Tag Archives: kora

Artist Profiles: Kane Mathis

Kane Mathis

Kane Mathis has been making annual trips to The Gambia, West Africa to study the 21-string harp called Kora played by the bards of the Mandinka people. Kane’s teacher is Jeli Ba Malamini Jobarteh who is one of the living legends of the Kora. Recognizing Kane’s seriousness with Kora, Jeli Ba Malamini Jobarteh gave Kane a regimen of Kora training never before undertaken by a non-African.

In addition to his learning with Malamini Jobarteh Kane has studied African music extensively over the past ten years. Kane’s present goal with Kora is to remain with the Mandinka musical tradition and along with the many other players and scholars of this music bring it to further recognition around the world.


Songs from the Cedar House

Counterpoints (Nyatoo Music, 2017)


Artist Profiles: Ba Cissoko

Ba Cissoko

Ba Cissoko is a talented Guinean multi-instrumentalists and vocalist. He’s a jeli (also known as griot), part of a long line of master musicians. He learned traditional Mandinka music from M’ Bady Kouyaté.

Although he’s a kora (West African harp) master, Ba Cissoko also plays ngoni, guitar and percussion. His band regularly features a second kora player, creating fascinating interplay.

Ba Cissoko’s sound is a mix of electric Mandinka music and traditional influences. Ba Cissoko incorporates rock, reggae and pop into his sound. The kora is played traditional style and electrified as well.


Ba Cissoko


His first major international appearance was in 1995 in Marseilles at the Festival Nuits Métis. In 1999 he formed his band.




Sabolan (2002)
Electric Griot Land (2006)
Séno (2009)
Nimissa (Cristal Records, 2012)
Djeli (Cristal Records, 2016)


Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal to perform at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal


Malian kora maestro Ballaké Sissoko and French cello virtuoso Vincent Segal are set to perform on Tuesday February 28 at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina.

The two musicians have developed a distinctive hybrid musical style that mixes traditional West African and European Baroque music.

The duo released a remarkable debut album titled Chamber Music, released in North America in 2011. Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal continued the collaboration in 2015 with Musique du Nuit.



Tuesday February 28 at 8 PM
The ArtsCenter, 300-G E. Main Street, Carrboro, NC.

Tickets for this show are $22. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit artscenterlive.org or call the Box Office at (919) 929-2787.

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal will start their North American tour tomorrow. Tour dates:

Feb. 23, Berea College, Berea KY
Feb. 24, University of VT, Burlington VT
Feb. 25, Palais Montcalm, Quebec
Feb. 26, Le Gesu, Montreal
Feb. 28, The Arts Center, Carrboro NC
March 1, The Barns at Wolftrap Vienna
March 3, French Institute Alliance, New York NY
March 4, Villa Victoria, Boston, MA
March 5, North Beach Band Shell, Miami Beach
March 8, Old Town School of Folk, Chicago IL
March 9, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis MN


Where World Music Intersects World Jazz

Omar Sosa and Seckou Keita – Transparent Water (Ota Records, 2017)

Music fans should settle in and enjoy the sumptuous ride that is Transparent Water. Co-creator Omar Sosa, the Cuban-born composer, bandleader and pianist, has such recordings as Eggun – The Afri-Lectric Experience, Jog, Ile and Calma under his belt, while Seckou Keita, the Senegalese kora master, has released albums like 22 Strings/Cordes, Afro-Mandinka Soul with his own Seckou Keita Quartet and Clychau Dibon. Joining forces under the Ota Records label, Transparent Water, set for release on February 24th, pairs Mr. Sosa’s Afro-Cuban and jazz sensibilities with the lush African traditions of Mr. Keita’s long musical legacy of his griot family.

Transparent Water is where world music meets world jazz, where tradition meets improvisation and where the lines of spiritual and earthy meet. The result is stunningly evocative.

With Mr. Sosa on piano, Fender Rhodes, sampling, microKorg and vocals and Mr. Keita firmly enticing listeners with his kora mastery, as well as talking drum, djembe, sabar and vocals, listeners are treated to the interplay between these two musicians and composers. But as luck would have it, Mr. Sosa and Mr. Keita turn the music on its ears with the additions of Chinese musician Wu Tong on sheng and bawu; Japanese koto master Mieko Miyazaki; Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles on bata drums, culo’puya, maracas, guataca, calabaza and clave; Korean geojungo player E’Joung-Ju; and Rajasthani nagadi player Mosin Khan Kawa.

Cuban rhythms, African melodies and Asian influences pile up, separate and mesh together in an expansive musical tapestry where it’s impossible to pull at one musical thread and undo the lot.

Like water, Transparent Water flows easy from the jazzy opening track “Dary” into the delicately piano and kora interplay of “In the Forest.” Lush track flows into lush track with goodies like the sheng laced “Black Dream,” the catchy African influenced “Mining-Nah” with Mr. Keita’s vocals warming up the track and mysteriously moody “Another Prayer.”

Listeners can’t help but be charmed by tracks like sassy offering “Fatiliku,” the dreamy musical landscape of “Oni Yalorde” with Mr. Tong on the bawu or the piano lines of “Zululand.” Transparent Water is one of those recordings that requires listeners stop and really listen and it’s best if you just go with its flow.

Mr. Sosa, Mr. Keita and company have conjured up a truly brilliant collaboration on Transparent Water. Mesmerizing, evocative and sophisticated, Transparent Water begs for a listen.

Buy Transparent Water in the Americas

Buy Transparent Water in Europe


Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal Announce 2017 North American Tour

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal will return to North American stages in 2017, with their first tour on this side of the Atlantic since 2011. Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal charmed critics and fans alike with their splendid debut Chamber Music, released in North America in 2011.

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal – Chamber Music

The duo followed this success up with 2015’s Musique du Nuit that intensified the kora with cello hybrid sound.

Ballake Sissoko and Vincent Segal – Musique De Nuit

Ballaké and Vincent will begin the first part of their 2017 North American tour with stops in eleven cities in February and March, including Quebec, Montreal, New York City, Chicago, Miami, and more.

The duo will return for a second leg of touring in autumn 2017, with more dates to be announced.

Watch Ballaké and Vincent on Youtube

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal 2017 Tour Dates:

Feb. 23, Berea College, Berea KY
Feb. 24, University of VT, Burlington VT
Feb. 25, Palais Montcalm, Quebec
Feb. 26, Le Gesu, Montreal
Feb. 28, The Arts Center, Carrboro NC
March 1 The Barns at Wolftrap, Vienna VA
March 3 French Institute Alliance New York NY
March 4 Villa Victoria, Boston, MA
March 5, North Beach Band Shell, Miami Beach
March 8, Old Town School of Folk, Chicago IL
March 9, Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis MN


Artist Profiles: Ousseynou Kouyate

Ousseynou Kouyate was a member of the National Ballet of Senegal for seven years before moving to Berkeley with his twin brother Assane and starting their colorful music/dance band Djialy Kunda Kouyate (now known as Sekhou Senegal), using such indigenous instruments as the kora and balafon.

Kouyate is a descendant of griots who carries on age-old traditions. He has performed in various world music collaborations at Ashkenaz music club with such musicians as fellow African star Solo Cissokho and Cajun/zydeco fiddler Tom Rigney.


Kora Delight

Dawda Jobarteh – Transitional Times (Sterns Music, 2016)

All too often kora music evokes the image of lacy traditional African tunes that fall into the elegant or quaint category, but Gambian kora player and composer Dawda Jobarteh firmly pulls out the rug under that notion on his second release on the Sterns Music label entitled Transitional Times, following up on his 2011 release of Northern Light Gambian Night.

Continuing the esteemed Gambian musical tradition of his grandfather Alhaji Bai Konte and father Amadou Basang, Mr. Jobarteh has stepped up and out to conjure up a first class recording by way of Transitional Times by incorporating his traditional roots to mold and bend the boundaries of the kora.

Often sleek and sophisticated, Mr. Jobarteh’s compositions and kora work dip into subtle jazz sensibilities or the sharp edges found in expressive jams that leave the listener breathless, but still returns and immerses music fans into that wonderful kaleidoscope of lacy notes of traditional kora, a pleasing diversion for both old and new fans.

Opening with the solo kora track “Winter Trees Stand Sleeping,” Mr. Jobarteh dazzles listeners with this artful, neat composition. But Transitional Times doesn’t waste any time before turning the mood with the stylishly expressive “Our Time in Tanjeh” with fellow musicians Preben Carlsen on guitar and Salieu Dibba on percussion.

The recording just gets better with the addition of the sadly soulful “Efo” with Mr. Jobarteh on kora, electric kora, vocals and tama drum backed by Mr. Carlsen on acoustic guitar, Nana Osibio on bass and Niclas Campagnol on drums. Transitional Times throws in the infectiously pleasing traditional tune “Kaira,” arranged by Mr. Jobarteh.



Wonderful things happen on the John Coltrane composition “Transition” as Mr. Jobarteh is joined by Etienne M’Bappe on bass, Jakob Dinesen on saxophone and Mr. Campagnol on drums. Equally wonderful sounds are evoked in a track about the perils of discrimination called “All One,” where joined by Alain Perez on bass, Mr. Campagnol on drums and Mr. Dibba on percussion, Mr. Jobarteh’s composition and vocals come out as almost a hymn like prayer surrounded by subtle jazz edges.

“Jamming in the Fifth Dimension” is explosively keen edged with just electric kora and percussion. Add into the mix the sweetly jazzy “Lullaby Med Jullie” with vocals provided by Julie Hjetland Jensen and Transitional Times is everything its title promises to be.

Mr. Jobarteh continues to dazzle with rich tracks like the traditional “Mama Sawo,” the percussive wonder “Kanoo” and the graceful tracks “Presenting the King” and “Dalua.”

Listening to Transitional Times find its depth of vision by way of Mr. Jobarteh’s willingness to step into other genres and across traditional paths is a delight. Transitional Times is one of those must have kora CDs.


Artist Profiles: Ba Cissoko

Ba Cissoko
Ba Cissoko

Ba Cissoko is a master kora player. He belongs a long lineage of griots (jelis), master singers and musicians. His uncle M’Bady Kouyate transmitted his knowledge to Ba cissoko since he was a child. Since then, Ba Cissoko has renewed the kora while refining his knowledge of the art of storytelling.

His 2006 album, Electric Griot Land, is a nod to Jimi Hendrix’s vision, who adjusted his blues origins to his time. That’s Ba Cissoko’s musical process, who was just born when the guitarist was starting on his revolution.

In 2009 he released Séno, another nod to Jimi Hendrix’s vision. By his side in 2010, his band included his two cousins, Kourou the elder on bass and bolon, and Sékou, the young prodigy who transforms the kora with saturated effects, and Dartagnan (percussion) and Abdoulaye Kouyaté (guitar). ”To modernize the Manding tradition to better spread it; to transgress it, to really honor it,” says Ba Cissoko.


Sabolan (2005)
Electric Griot Land (2007)
Séno (2009)
Nimissa (2012)
Djeli (2016)


Artist Profiles: Toumani Diabate

Toumani Diabate
Toumani Diabate

Toumani Diabate is one the most brilliant players of the kora (a 21-string harp-lute from West Africa). He was born in 1965 in Bamako into a great kora playing family – his father, the late Sidiki Diabate, was known throughout West Africa as the king of the kora. Sidiki Diabaté, raised the instrument from being a simple jali accompaniment instrument to the rank of solo performer.

Toumani Diabate began his apprenticeship on the kora at the age of five and made his first public performance eight years later with the Koulikoro Ensemble at the Mali Biennale. After winning the prize at that performance for Best Traditional Orchestra, he was invited to join Mali’s National Ensemble. Toumani toured Gabon and France in 1983, accompanying the great female jali singer Kandia Kouyaté.

In 1987 (then just 21 years old), Toumani broke into the international concert scene with his highly acclaimed album Kaira , still one of the best-selling solo kora albums.

Toumani’s success as soloist was immediate. He toured Europe, giving fifty concerts in Great Britain alone in 1988. Toumani has taken the kora to new heights, particularly in his two successful collaborations (Songhai and Songhai 2)with Nuevo Flamenco stars Ketama and bassist Danny Thompson. Songhai was a combination of Malian kora and flamenco, supported by a jazz bass line.

Although Toumani is largely self taught, the aggressive improvisatory style pioneered by his father is strikingly evident in Toumani’s own unique and inimitable style of playing which is intensely melodic.

In January of 2004, World Circuit’s Nick Gold was recording Ali Farka Toure’s first album in five years. The guitarist and his longtime producer from World Circuit invited Toumani Diabate to join Toure for one track: the traditional Malian song, “Kaira.” Without rehearsal, the duo improvised a version of the piece and quickly began recording another. The collaboration was so successful Nick Gold suggested they create an entire album together.

In July 2004, Nick Gold took his World Circuit team and their longtime engineering collaborator Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club) to Bamako, Mali to record In the Heart of the Moon. They set up a mobile studio in the Hotel Mande in Bamako, overlooking the Niger River and recorded the album there in three two-hour sessions. Drawing on a body of traditional songs familiar to both men, Toure and Diabate again began without rehearsing together beforehand. Only one song required a second take-because it had been interrupted by a rainstorm.

The record also includes subtle contributions from Ry Cooder on piano and guitar; Sekou Kante and Cacha?to L?pez on bass; and Joachim Cooder and Olalekan Babalola on percussion. In the Heart of the Moon is the first of a trilogy of albums Nick Gold’s label recorded at the Hotel Mande.

In recent years Toumani’s has been enjoying recognition for his contribution to the development of the kora, and as a key figure in African music. In 2003 he received the Tamani d’or, a prize awarded to the best kora player in the world; the following year saw Toumani receive the Zyriab des Virtuoses, a UNESCO prize awarded at the Mawazine Festival organized by King Mohammed 6th of Morocco, he is the first black African ever to be given the prize.

Toumani has been taking steps to help preserve the legacy of traditional kora music in Mali, and to educate future generations of their rich musical heritage, whilst encouraging them to also explore the creative possibilities within music. He is President/Director of Mandinka Kora Productions, who actively promote the kora through workshops, festivals, and various cultural events.

Toumani is also a teacher of the kora and of modern and traditional music at the Balla Fasseke Conservatoire of Arts, Culture and Multimedia, which opened at the end of 2004. Toumani has also entered into a creatively furtive period; he reunited with Ballake Sissoko for a track on Ballake’s album Tomora and also appears on the title track of Salif Keita’s 2006 recording M’Bemba.

In 2010, Toumani Diabate participated in AfroCubism. This was World Circuit’s dream project. The original intention for Buena Vista Social Club was a stellar collaboration of musicians from Mali and Cuba. In 2000 the original plan was finally realized with an incredible line-up including Eliades Ochoa, Bassekou Kouyate, Djelimady Tounkara, Toumani Diabaté, Grupo Patria, Kasse Mady Diabaté and Lassana Diabaté.

The 2014 album, Toumani & Sidiki, features Toumani Debate and his son Sidiki.


New Ancient Strings (Hannibal, 1999)

Djelika (Hannibal, 1995)

Kaira (Hannibal, 1988)

Songhai, with Ketama (Hannibal, 1988)

Songhai 2 (Hannibal, 1995)

New Ancient Strings, with Ballake Sissoko (Hannibal, 1999)

Kulanjan (1999), with Sissoko, Kasse Mady Diabate and Taj Mahal

In the Heart of the Moon : Best of Toumani Diabate (Hannibal, 2001)

Mali Music, with Afel Bocoum, Damon Albarn (Honest Jon’s Records, 2002)

Malicool, with Roswell Rudd (Soundscape, 2003)

In the Heart of the Moon, with Ali Farka Toure (World Circuit, 2005)

Boulevard de l’Independance (World Circuit, 2006)

Ali & Toumani (World Circuit, 2010)

Afrocubism ((World Circuit, 2010)

A Curva da Cintura, with Arnaldo Antunes and Edgard Scandurra (Mais Um Discos, 2011)

Toumani & Sidiki (Nonesuch, 2014)


Artist Profiles: Mamadou Diabate

Mamadou Diabaté - Photo by Angel Romero
Mamadou Diabaté – Photo by Angel Romero

Mamadou Diabaté was born in 1975 in Kita, a Malian city long known as a center for the arts and culture of the Manding people of West Africa. As the name Diabaté indicates, Mamadou comes from a family of jelis (which French colonizers call griots) as they are known among the Manding.

Jelis are more than just traditional musicians. They use music and sometimes oratory to preserve and sustain peoples’ consciousness of the past, a past that stretches back to the 13th century when the Manding king Sunjata Keita consolidated the vast Empire of Mali, covering much of West Africa.

The stories of these glory days and the times since remain important touchstones for people today, not only for the Manding, but for many citizens of Mali, Guinea, Gambia, and Senegal. So to be born to a distinguished jeli family in Kita is already an auspicious beginning.

Mamadou’s father Djelimory Diabaté played the kora, the jeli’s venerable 21-string harp, in the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali. At the age of four, Mamadou went to live with his father in Bamako, where the Ensemble is based. When it came time for him to return to Kita and go to school, Mamadou knew that the kora was his destiny. His father had taught him how to tune the instrument, and from there he listened and watched and devoted himself to practicing the kora, to the point that his mother worried that he was not concentrating enough on school. When she took his kora away, it only reduced his interest in studying, and he quickly resorted to making his own kora so he could continue.

Before long, Mamadou left school and began playing kora for local jeli singers, and traveling throughout the region to play at the ceremonies where modern jelis ply their trade, mostly weddings and baptisms.

When he was fifteen, Mamadou won first prize for his kora playing in a regional competition and instantly became something of a local celebrity. The next year, he went to Bamako, and under the tutelage of his famous kora playing cousin, Toumani Diabate, he worked the jeli circuit, backing singers at neighborhood weddings and baptisms and entertaining the powerful at the city’s posh Amitié Hotel.

Toumani gave his cousin the nickname Djelika Djan, meaning “tall jeli” (tall griot), a reference to Mamadou’s impressive physical stature. The name has stuck.

In 1996, a touring group from the Instrumental Ensemble of Mali offered Mamadou the chance to travel to the United States of America with a group of Manding musicians and cultural authorities. Following a successful tour, Mamadou decided to continue his work in the United States. Initially, he made his home in and around New York, but he now lives in the culturally rich Durham, North Carolina.

Mamadou gets frequent invitations to perform with visiting Malian stars and has performed at the United Nations and at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. In addition, he’s delved into uncharted waters, jamming with all manners of New York musicians, including jazz luminaries Donald Byrd and Randy Weston.

His album Heritage shows why the kora virtuoso is one of the essential names in Malian music. The CD contains elaborate ensemble-style instrumental pieces featuring traditional Malian instruments such as bala (balafon) and calabash, together with acoustic bass and guitar.

His fourth solo album, Douga Mansa, a tribute to his father and grandfather, won the 2010 Grammy for Best Traditional World Music Album.


Tunga (Alula Records, 2000)

Behmanka (Europe: Tradition and Moderne, 2004 / USA: World Village, 2005)

Heritage (World Village, 2006)

Douga Mansa (World Village, 2008)

Strings Tradition (Felmay Records, 2009)

Djan Djan (ABC Music, 2010)

Courage (World Village, 2011)

Griot Classique (2014)