Tag Archives: Ballake Sissoko

Artist Profiles: Ballake Sissoko

Ballake Sissoko – Photo by Benoit Peverelli

The sound of Ballake Sissoko’s 21-string kora identifies him, along with Toumani Diabate, as one of the best kora players of a new generation of musicians in Mali. His concerts with Taj Mahal’s Kulanjan project brought him international attention.

Ballake Sissoko is the son of Jelimady Sissoko, grand master of the Manding kora, a harp with twenty-one strings whose crystalline sound has won over audiences world-wide. With his ‘big brother’ Toumani Diabate, the son of Sidiki Diabate, another illustrious figure of the jeli (oral historians and musicians) tradition, Ballake is considered one of the best kora players of the new generation. He first learned the instrument very early on at his father’s school. At the age of 14, he replaced his father in the Ensemble Instrumental National and by the late eighties he was also playing in the electric bands of the most famous jelimuso.

He remembers the difficulty of initially playing with virtuoso guitar players like Bouba Sacko and Jeli Madi Tounkara, who had picked up the techniques of the ngoni but also used western scales and rock riffs. Rising to the challenge, he was the first local kora player to master western modes and still provide the rhythmic structure to accompany the dance steps of the singers. Simultaneously following different melodic lines with his thumbs and index fingers, Jeli Moussa’s playing combines a bass accompaniment, the harmonic progressions of the rhythm guitar and intricate solo improvisations. Jeli Moussa works regularly with Kandia Kouyate, and together they toured the USA, Europe and Australia.

After performing with the prestigious Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, and accompanying many Malian singers, he came to fame by performing solo or in duet with Toumani Diabate, Taj Mahal and a host of other musicians. In the 1980s, Malian kora music was once more revolutionized when Jeli Moussa Sissoko (called Ballake Sissoko) and Toumani Diabate, the sons of Jeli Madi Sissoko and Sidiki Diabate, introduced chord progressions played on the guitar into their father’s repertoire.

Open to every new adventure and encounter, Ballake Sissoko is a gifted instrumentalist who, inspired by tradition, was able to forge a personal style. A visionary figure and fine melodist, he is an excellent accompanist and superb composer.

On Ballake: Kora Music From Mali, Ballake is surrounded by young musicians, friends and fellows met in various ways in Bamako, and his wife, the singer Mama Draba. Fassery Diabate, son of Keletigui Diabate, bala (West African xylophone) expert and well-known performer of Malian music, freed himself too, of tradition, while still respecting its spirit. Extremely brilliant, he never falls into just technical proficiency, but exhibits astonishing maturity. Adama Tounkara is Jelimady Tounkara’s nephew, the ‘guitar hero’ of Mali music, respected conductor of the Mali’s Super Rail Band. He’s one of those many young artists who have specialized in the study of the ngoni, a small, four-stringed traditional lute dating back to the 12th century (like the bala), and which was once played at the court of Sundiata Keita, founder of the Manding Empire. It is no doubt the ancestor of the banjo and is part and parcel of the colorful sound of traditional and modern Mali music. A difficult instrument, but one which Adama Tounkara perfectly masters. Hearing this very young virtuoso, you are immediately struck by the finesse of his playing sound and phrasing and the subtle swing of his very jazzy inventions.

The youngest of the group, Aboubacar Sidiki Dembele, provides solid back-up on the bolon, ancestor of the acoustic bass, and indispensable instrument for any respectable Manding group. Mama Draba, younger and less well-known abroad than her compatriots Kandia Kouyate, Amy Koita or Oumou Sangare, is still one of the greatest singers of the new Manding music. With her deep, powerful voice and impeccable phrasing, she’s one of the great performers of the epic jeli-style Bambara and Malinke traditions.

Ballaké Sissoko is one of the members of 3MA, the meeting of three African masters: Ballaké Sissoko on kora, Moroccan ud player Driss El Maloumi, and Malagasy musician Rajery. In 2006 Sissoko, El Maloumi and Rajery met and later released a remarkable self-titled debut album in 2008.

Another project involving Ballaké Sissoko is a duo with French cellist Vincent Segal. Their superb debut album Chamber Music was critically acclaimed. The duo followed with an equally excellent second album in 2015, Musique du Nuit.

3MA released Anarouz (“Hope”) in 2018. In addition to Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, and Rajery, the album also includes percussionist Khalid Kouhen.

Discography:

New Ancient Strings / Nouvelles Cordes Anciennes (Hannibal Records, 1999)
Déli (Label Bleu 2000
Master Musicians Meeting Club (Volume 1) (Saraswati, 2002
Kora Music From Mali (Indigo, 2002)
Diario Mali (Ponderosa Music, 2003)
Tomora (Label Bleu, 2004)
3MA (Madagascar Mali Maroc), with Rajery, Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi (Contre-Jour, 2008)
Chamber Music, with Vincent Segal (No Format, 2009)
At Peace (No Format, 2013)
Musique De Nuit, with Vincent Segal (No Format, 2015)
The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888 (Alia Vox, 2017)
Anarouz (Mad Minute Music, 2017)

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3MA at the Top of the Transglobal World Music Chart in January 2018

3MA – Anarouz

Anarouz (Six Degrees), the latest album by 3MA, a group featuring three high profile African musicians Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, Rajery, is the number 1 album in January 2018 at the Transglobal World Music Chart. Ballaké Sissoko (Mali) is a kora maestro, Driss El Maloumi (Morocco) is an ud virtuoso and Rajery (Madagascar) is the leading valiha player in his country.

The rest of the January 2018 chart

2. Boubacar Traoré – Dounia Tabolo- Lusafrica

3. Efrén López, Stelios Petrakis, Bijan Chemirani – Taos – Buda Musique

4. Saz’iso – At Least Wave Your Handkerchief at Me: The Joys and Sorrows of Southern Albanian Song – Glitterbeat

5. Kapela Maliszów – Wiejski Dżez – Unzipped Fly

6. BKO – Mali Foli Coura – Buda Musique

7. Trio Da Kali and Kronos Quartet – Ladilikan – World Circuit

8. Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino – Canzoniere – Ponderosa Music

9. Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams – ECM

10. Maya Youssef – Syrian Dreams – Harmonia Mundi

11. WoWaKin – Kraj za Miastem – WoWaKin

12. Saeid Shanbehzadeh – Pour-Afrigha – Buda Musique

13. Júlio Pereira – Praça do Comércio – Tradisom

14. Ross Daly & Kelly Thoma – Lunar – Labyrinth

15. Raúl Rodríguez – La Raíz Eléctrica – Fol Música

16. Lankum – Between the Earth and Sky – Rough Trade

17. TootArd – Laissez Passer – Glitterbeat

18. Jivan Gasparyan Duduk Ensemble – Yeraz – Buda Musique

19. Khalid Kouhen & Marylène Ingremeau – Sillage – Ouï-Dire / UVM

20. V.A. – Mista Savona Presents: Havana Meets Kingston – Baco Records / VP Records

For more information go to www.transglobalwmc.com

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Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal Announce Fall 2017 West Coast Tour

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal

Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal will be touring the West coast of the United States this fall.

Malian kora maestro Ballaké Sissoko and French cellist Vincent Segal released the acclaimed album Chamber Music in 2011. The duo released a second recording titled Musique du Nuit in 2015.

Ballake Sissoko & Vincent Segal Fall U.S. Tour Dates:

10/22: Plestcheef Auditorium at Seattle Museum of Art, Seattle, WA
10/24: The Old Church, Portland, OR
10/26: Freight and Salvage, Berkeley, CA
10/27: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre – Monday, Davis, CA
10/28: Vanderhoef Studio Theatre – Monday, Davis, CA
10/30: Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz, CA
11/1: Temple of Israel, Los Angeles, CA
11/2: Museum of Making Music, Carlsbad, CA
11/3: MIM Music Theater, Phoenix, AZ

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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

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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

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Fama denke: An old Malian song

“Fama Denke” is a traditional Malian song to make a note of.

One of the joys of traditional Malian music is that its corpus is a repertoire that spans thousands and thousands of years; some songs let us into the psychologies and mentalities of humans living in historical conditions that we cannot fathom who first composed these songs. The fact that the song continues to be sung is the icing on the cake. Not only are we let into ancestral psychologies and the mentalities but we along with others enjoy being let in. Some old songs are just incredibly beautiful however obscure their lyrics may feel. One such song is “Fama Denke.” Malian heavyweight Ballake Sissoko, amongst many other greats, has interpreted it on his album Tomora. “Fama Denke” translates to “Son of the King.” It is a song that reminds a fallen Prince to keep his composure despite having to face capital punishment because of his betraying his father in 1898, as West African Kingdoms had all fallen into the hands of colonial powers.

Ballake Sissoko - Tomora
Ballake Sissoko – Tomora

The prince in question’s name is not fully agreed upon. Some say that his name was Diaoulé Karamoko and others say that it was Djale-Karamorgho. What’s agreed on is that he was the son of Almamy Samory Toure, who belongs to the same lineage as the Guinean ex-President Sekou Toure. Almamy Samory Toure founded a short lived Empire, the Islamic Kingdom of Wassoulou that encompassed parts of present-day Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. Samory Toure is a considered a major figure in West African political history because of his conquests. Diaoulé was sent by has father to be an Ambassador in France and when he returned, he had conceived of his own projects and began to influence the Empire’s army. He was put to death b popular verdict.

“Fama Denke” begins with a display of instrumental prowess before any of lyrics are sung. The griot then proceeds to sing what sounds like a lament but is not. The Kora playing is generally easier to fall into then the words, given how removed the lyrics are from contemporary life. It is not a universal song that speaks to average conditions and that’s what’s fascinating about it standing the test of time. It is incredibly composed and a gorgeous song more so than anything else.

There are traditional several ways to play “Fama Denke”. The most traditional “Fama Denke” is played on a Kora in Sauta tuning or Tomora Meseng tuning. Both Sauta tuning and Tomora Meseng tuning are traditional ways to tune a Kora and are used to reflect local dialects. Tomora Meseng is meant to be a thinner pitch than the Tomoraba, the oldest way to tune a Kora.

Both Sauta tuning and Tomora Meseng are Eastern Gambian tuning, though Malian players most likely brought the tuning with them during their migrations. “Fama Denke” can also be played on two balafons as a purely instrumental song. Finally, the song “Fama Denke” gave birth to the more popular song “Kana Kassi,” which translates to “Do Not Cry,” a song which much more attuned to contemporary life that is often sung as a lullaby or even as a love song.

The song Fama Denke is a great listen and a great introduction to the end of the West African 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Most of all, however, it is a beautiful composition that has stood the time because of its magnificence.

Headline photo: Ballake Sissoko

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