Tag Archives: kora

Smithsonian Folkways to Reissue Gambian Griot Kora Duets

Gambian Griot Kora Duets

Smithsonian Folkways has announced the reissue of the album Gambian Griot Kora Duets on vinyl and digital. Originally released in 1979, the album highlighted Gambian kora maestro Dembo Konte at the beginning of his international career together with his father Alhaji Bai Konte.

The album includes 5 tracks. Three are duos featuring Alhaji Bai Konte and Dembo Konte and the other two tracks present Dembo Konte and Ma Lamini Jobate. Release date for vinyl is January 31, 2020.

Buy Gambian Griot Kora Duets


Artist Profiles: Seckou Keita

Seckou Keita – Photo by Andy Morgan

Seckou Keita was born in 1977 in the green region of Casamance (south of Senegal),. He is a descendant of the Keita family of Kings from Mali.

Seckou’s lineage would normally not allow him to become a jeli (griot), but he was raised by his mother’s family, the Cissokho’s [also known as Sissoko], a well-established griot family in Senegal.

Although a kora player through the jeli tradition, his thirst for music has also made him an outstanding drummer and percussionist.

Seckou started to perform professionally at festivals in Senegal at the age of seven, supporting his famous uncle Solo Cissokho. By the age of 12, he had formed his own group, Coute Diomboulou and was performing throughout the country.

His international career took off in 1996 under the guidance of his uncle Solo Cissokho, living in Scandinavia.

Seckou performed at the Forde festival in Norway with musicians from Norway, India and Cuba. The group combined the traditional music from each of the countries represented to create a new musical style. This led to a tour for the group the following year at the Global Music Festival in India where they performed with Dr L. Subramanian, an internationally renowned violinist and composer.

In 1998, Seckou relocated to the UK where he became a member of Baka Beyond. He performed around Europe (the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Portugal, Greece and of course the UK) in festivals such as Womad and Glastonbury.

He became an indispensable element of most of the African festivals such as Drum Camp, Ace and Tribe of Doris. And has also been greatly in demand for private parties, weddings and first night openings of musicals such as the Lion King in Covent Garden.

In the middle of 2000, Seckou started recording his first album “Baiyo” (meaning Orphan). The album was finally released on June 20t, 2001. Baiyo represents Seckou’s journey from Africa to Europe via India.

He also participated in the ETE project, which released an album in November 2001 and led to a UK tour on March 2002.

In 2001, he impressed audiences as a solo performer at WOMAD Las Palmas (Spain), the Sacred Music Festival (Ireland) and at the Jazz Café (London) for the Africa night broadcasted by BBC Radio 3. This wassuch a success that he was nominated by the listeners of Radio 3 for the World Music Award 2001.

Seckou also created Jamoral, which was the first step to modernizing kora music with a groove dance approach. The band performed at different festivals such as WOMAD Reading, the Edinburgh Festival and the Epicuriales (France).

As a musicians family, the Cissokhos have always dreamt of being united to carry on the powerful tradition throughout the world and to introduce in its modern form. This dream was first mentioned by Solo the patriarch of the family Solo Cissokho and was called Jalikunda (the House of Griots).

In 2002, Seckou carried on this idea by inviting 4 members of his family to tour all over UK in renowned festivals such as Glastonbury (Jazz/World Stage), Womad festival and Window of the World where the band performed alongside Cheikh Lo and Papa Wemba.

This was such a success that Seckou decided to produce the first family album, <a

href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00009AQMW/105-2850599-3152441?ie=UTF8&amp;tag=musidelmund-20&amp;linkCode=xm2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creativeASIN=B00009AQMW”>Lindiane</a>, which was released in February 2003.

In 2004, he began working with Juldeh Camara, the monocord fiddle or riti player from The Gambia who later hit the big time with Justin Adams and Robert Plant.

A new ‘quintet’ began to form around Seckou which included the bassist Davide Mantonvani, Seckou’s 17-year-old brother Surhata Susso and the classically-trained violinist Samy Bishai. Mandé, Arab, Indian, pan-African, jazzy – a wonderful mix of sounds was present on the group’s first album Tama Silo: Afro-Mandinka Soul, released in 2006. Seckou then took the quintet back home to showcase this new blend to family and friends in Senegal, where they were joined by his sister Binta Susso.

Their next album, The Silimbo Passage released in 2008. The Seckou Keita Quintet toured incessantly during this period, notching up more than 200 concerts in over 40 countries.

Seckou also became involved with the WOMAD festival as a performer and a workshop host, traveling to Singapore, Australia and the Canary Islands, and played at WOMAD UK with Catrin Finch in 2014.

He is a regular performer in Do You Speak Djembe?, an ambitious percussion extravangaza series in France and Switzerland created by Sewabeats founder Doug Manuel, and French composer Philip Fournier, the lead conductor of the Lyons Symphony Orchestra.

His previous albums Miro and The Silimbo Passage hit No.1 in the European world music charts. The collaboration has since given over 130 performances throughout Europe, the US and Canada and garnered huge critical acclaim from fans and critics alike.

His solo album, 22 Strings, was released in May 2015.

In 2016, Seckou was invited to play with Damon Albarn’s African Express with the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians.

Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch

The second collaboration with Catrin Finch was SOAR, released in 2018.

In 2018, Keita formed AKA Trio, together with Italian guitarist Antonio Forcione and Brazilian percussionist Adriano Adewale. The group released an album titled Joy in 2018.


Baka Beyond Presents Eté ‎(March Hare Music, 2001)
Mali (ARC Music, 2003)
Afro Mandinka Soul: Tama Silo (ARC Music, 2006)
The Silimbo Passage (World ArtVentures, 2009)
Miro (Astar Artes Recordings, 2012)
Clychau Dibon, with Catrin Finch (Astar Artes/Mwldan, 2013)
22 Strings – 22 Cordes (ARC Music, 2015)
Transparent Water, with Omar Sosa (Otá Records, 2017)
Soar, with Catrin Finch (Bendigedig, 2018)
Joy ( Bendigedig, 2018)


Sunujazz, a Delightful Encounter Between West Africa and West

Lamine Cissokho – Sunujazz

Lamine Cissokho – Sunujazz (Sewa Music, 2019)

Senegalese kora player Lamine Cissokho mixes traditional sounds from West Africa with jazz and contemporary influences on Sunujazz.

Standout pieces include “Contre Vent,” an exquisite piece where the kora and electric guitar dance around each other over a layer of calabass; the irresistible rootsy “L’Amour” featuring lead vocals by Lamine Cissokho; the joyous interplay of Ousmane Ba’s guitar and Lamine’s kora on “Kaira;” and the lively “Sosolasso” a superb song highlighting the kora, electric guitar and call and response vocals.

Lamine Cissokho is a Mandinka jali (musician and storyteller, also known as griot) from Casamance in southern Senegal. He is based in Sweden.

The lineup includes Lamine Cissokho on kora and lead vocals; Alain Oyono on saxophone; Tobias Grim on guitar; Per-Olof Rylander on piano; Ousmane Ba on fula flute; Romi Christian Bonaban on bass; Ibou Calebasse on calabash; Diougouna Sissokho and Saga Björkling on backing vocals.

Buy Sunujaz


Artist Profiles: Djimo Kouyate

Djimo Kouyate

Djimo Kouyate (kora, voice) was from the Malinke ethnic group, a sub-group of the Manding people. Born in Tamba Counda, Senegal, he was part of a family of jelis (oral historians) who trace their ancestry to the thirteenth century.

An excellent kora player, Djimo was also a drummer and dancer. He worked with the Senegalese National Ballet, and was a founding member of the National Instrumental Ensemble of Senegal. He performed extensively throughout Europe and the United States, and headed the educational organization Memory of African Culture.

Kouyate had 7 recordings, Djimo: West African Kora Music,
African Odyssey Vol. 2 (Music Of The World 1989) , Fa Kae – Djimo Kouyate/Manding Kora Music, (Music Of The World 1987) , Yankadi – Djimo Kouyate/Manding Drum Rhythms, Goree, featuring Mamaya African Jazz; and Diali Djimo Kouyate:Khabila (Family Lineage) and features traditional Manding Griot Ensemble music. His last CD released in December2003 is titled Wato Sita: This is the Time…for Peace and was a blending of the traditional with the contemporary. On this instrumental recording Kouyate was joined by guest artists Bouba Sacko (Mali) on guitar, Balla Kouyate (Mali) on bala and Pepe Gonzalez (Spain) on upright bass.

Djimo Kouyate died on August 1, 2004. (read the obituary)


Delicately-crafted Contemporary and Traditional Visions of the Kora

Dawda Jobarteh – I Met Her By The River (Sterns Africa, 2019)

Denmark-based Gambian kora maestro Dawda Jobarteh showcases the many faces of the kora and his multidimensional influences on I Met Her By The River. The album includes delightful original and traditional solo kora pieces such as “I Met Her By The River”and “Karang Folo”.

On the song “Begging Boys”, Jobarteh decries a certain type of Quranic school found throughout Gambia and Senegal where part of the daily occupation is to beg on the streets. The boys are found dirty, hungry and with worn-out clothes.

Another side of Jobarteh is showcased through modern, charming ensemble pieces with lead kora, bass and West African and global percussion.

Jobarteh provides a tribute to Denmark by transforming “Jeg Gik Mig U Den Sommerdag” (“I Went Out On A Summer’s Day”), a well-known Scandinavian melody into a lovely tune with skillfully-crafted kora overdubs and cymbals.

Dawda Jobarteh – I Met Her By The River

There is also a cutting edge electric kora version of Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue,” bringing together jazz fusion, Afro-Cuban and Gambian music.  

The lineup includes Dawda Jobarteh on electric and traditional koras and vocals; Souleymane Faye on vocals; Preben Carlsen on bass; Jacob Andersen on percussion; Salieu Dibba on percussion; and Stefan Pasborn on drums.


Gambian Kora Pioneer and Griot Sona Jobarteh to Perform at The ArtsCenter

Sona Jobarteh, the first female kora virtuosa from a legendary jali (griot) family is set to perform at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Caroilina. Sona is the granddaughter of influential Gambian kora master Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.

Born in London and classically trained at the Royal College of Music and the Purcell School, Sona Jobarteh is a member of the Jobartehs (also kown as Diabates in other countries), one of the five major kora-playing jali families from West Africa and the first female member of such a family to rise to fame on this instrument. The kora is a 21-stringed African harp and is one of the most important instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa (Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau). The kora is traditionally a hereditary musical instrument performed by griot families.


Sona Jobarteh


The kora was solely passed down from father to son. Sona Jobarteh has become the first woman to take up this instrument professionally in a male tradition that dates back over seven centuries.
Sona is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, with an idiosyncratic vocal style and charismatic on stage.

She has quickly risen to international fame in the world music scene after the release of her much-admired album Fasiya (Heritage), released in 2011. In recent years, Sona has headlined major festivals around the world in Brazil, India, South Korea, Ghana, Mexico, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Lithuania, Poland and Malaysia, including a recent performance at the North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro.

In addition to her work as performing artists, Sona composed the music for the documentary film Motherland in 2009, constructing a unique mix of European and African sounds, and even going so far as to invent a new instrument, the nkoni (a cross between the kora and the donso ngoni). She teaches the kora in London, and worked with her father, Sanjally Jobarteh, in building a formal music school in the Gambia named after her famous grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.

The ArtsCenter is located at 300-G E. Main Street in Carrboro. For more information go to artscenterlive.org.


Artist Profiles: Yacouba Sissoko

Yacouba Sissoko

Yacouba Sissoko is a master kora player from the jeli tradition. He was born in Kita, Mali. His grandfather, Samakoun Tounkara, began teaching Yacouba when he was 12 years old. They raised Yacouba and educated him in his jeli heritage and in many lessons about life. Yacouba attended the Institut National des Arts du Mali in Bamako. After his graduation, he played with artists like Taye and Oumou Sacko, Haja Soumano, Djallou Demba, Ami Koita, Fantani Koure, Kandia Kouyate and l’Ensemble Instrumental du Mali.

In 1993, Souleymane Koli, the leader of the Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan recruited him. Yacouba spend the next 5 years performing all over the world with this 45-piece band. He is in demand as one of the best kora players in the world, playing with Jazz, Latin and R &B bands as well as traditional African ceremonies. As leader of his own band, Siya, and member of the group Super Mande, Yacouba continues to record with many musicians, including the groups Source, Tamalalou and Fula Flute.


KoraNYC, with Atropolis (Dutty Artz, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Madina N’Diaye

Madina N’Diaye – Photo by Katrin Haunreiter

Led by her love for Manding tunes, Madina N’Diaye was the only Malian woman on stage accompanied by a kora, one of the most emblematic instruments in the Malian musical heritage.

Armed with her kora, her compositions and her commitments for women’s causes, Madina opened the way to a new phenomenon in Mali: women who have access to musical instruments usually played by men or by the jeli (griot) caste.

Despite some traditionalists’ wrath, she made herself known as a talented author, composer and performer. Trained by well known masters like Toumani Diabate and Djelimadi Cissoko, she carried on her initiation by herself.

In 2003, Madina lost her eyesight because of a serious infection. Despite her handicap, she did not stop the rehearsals and completed an album.


Bimogow (Harmonia Mundi, 2011)
Midnight in Mali (Sterns Africa)


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.


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)


Artist Profiles: Balla Tounkara

Balla Tounkara

Balla Tounkara is a jeli (also known as griot by westerners) and master kora player from Mali, West Africa. He and his band, Groupe Spirit, have been bringing a spicy, eclectic blend of African, Latin, Funk, Reggae and Blues musical styles to enthusiastic audiences across the United States. The band regularly performs in Boston and New York City.

Balla has played with a host of world renowned musical artists, including: Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Jimmy Cliff, Baba Maal, Super Rail Band with Djelimady Tounkara, Ali Farka Toure, Oumou Sangare, Ami Koita, Toumani Diabate, Kine Lam, Adboulaye Diabate, Kandia Kouyate, Habibe Koite, T.J. Wheeler, John Sinclair and others. He regularly speaks out on important, pressing social issues such as AIDS and violence.

In 2002 the band was nominated as Outstanding World Music Act at the Boston Music Awares, and had the track Le Monde est Fou from their CD Be Right included on Putumayo World Music’s compilation From Congo to Cuba.


Kelefaba: The Peacemaker – Traditional Songs For The Kora (2002)
Yayoroba (Balla Tounkara Music, 2004)