@ the Rich Mix, London
21 November 2013
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The sound of Ballaké 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.
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, Sissoko
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 Ballaké
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, Ballaké 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.