Artist Profile - Yacouba Sissoko

Mar 12, 2010

The great thing about music, along with many art forms, is that it gives you endless opportunities to learn. When I read about Regina Carter's special guest from Mali, Yacouba Sissoko, I wanted to find out more about his life, his instrument - the kora, and the tradition of the griot.

Turns out both the kora and the griot tradition in which Sissoko was taught derive from Western Africa, where Sissoko is from. He was born in Kita, Mali, which is in the western part of that country, near Senegal. Sissoko was taught by his grandfather - it is typical for the griot tradition to be passed down orally through generations of family. The most similar term in the English culture for a griot is the bard from Shakespeare's days. The griot is a story teller who with wit, song, incredible knowledge of history and current events praise, educate, and entertain their audiences.

One of the most used instruments in the griot tradition is the kora. The kora is traditionally made from a large gourd that is covered with animal skin, and has 21 strings. The instrument is played with both hands, using only the index finger and thumb to strike the strings. The ability to use two hands when playing gives the sound a polyrhythmic element. The sound is similar to that of a harp, or even blues guitar.

Yacouba is one of today's best master kora players, and has played with many genres and groups.  Some of these groups have been the Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan, which is a 45 piece band that travels world-wide, the famous groups Fula Flute, Siya (his own band), Super Mande, and even l'Ensemble Instrumental du Mali.  Currently he's touring with Regina Carter, and is also recording with well-known Caribbean singer Harry Belafonte.

On that note, I'll leave you with Sissoko's music. Hope to see you at the show!

-Melissa Wray
Northrop Marketing Intern



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