Ballaké Sissoko was born into a family of performers in Mali spanning several generations.
As such, he began playing the kora instrument as a child and grew up surrounded by its unique traditional tones — playing and listening to the music with many others in his family.
The Malina musician debuted his new album called ‘Djourou’ at a concert in Bamako on Saturday.
Griots were the custodians of the oral traditions of history & storytelling in Western Africa, very often forming a hereditary class within society. (1) Mali, 1890. (2) A modern-day griot from Gambia, performing, typically, with a kora. #FolkloreThursday #NationalStorytellingWeek pic.twitter.com/iPxBmHV6hY
— Ian Ebbage (@ianebbage1) February 4, 2021
It is the first time in six years that he performs in his own country as his last in-person performance on his home soil was in 2015 with cellist Vincent Segal.
The project was released in April in France where Sissoke resides but for this international artist, it was important to personally bring it home along with wife singer Fatima to Mali — in spite of any continued restrictions imposed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Covid 19 is a real catastrophe, for the artists that are not paid per month but per performance. Because if there is no concert there is no money,” he explains.
The travel and gathering restrictions that came with the unprecedented global health crisis greatly impacted the livelihoods of many musicians around the world — many of whom earn their main source of income from show ticket sales.
While we're at that, the kora instrument is the most notable fixture of this tribe besides its involvement in the Mali empire. It's such a beautiful and sublime instrumentLoading...
— 🥥 Muhammadu Marape 🍫 (@yorubaketupat) May 31, 2021
However, improvised virtual concerts are not always an alternative solution.
The Malian musician shares why the trip home was extremely important to him.
“The release of my new album was officially in April in France, but because of that, it was necessary for me to come, to present this album (called) ‘Djourou’ to the Malian public.
“Because the Malian don’t have the opportunity to see the live concert on the internet. The concert this evening is a good thing (way) to present my work in Mali.”
In recent years, Mali has also been dealing with several political crises.
featuring music by #BallakeSissoko and #BabaSissoko from their new release Sissoko & Sissoko#WorldMusic #Radio #Kora #Ngoni #Malihttps://t.co/bEOcgU3w2Q @SheiSLoudPR pic.twitter.com/dfyuKldPdU
— songlinesradio (@SonglinesRadio) October 12, 2019
The arrest and forced resignation of the president and the prime minister last month also caused concern among the population of the West African country and an outcry among the international community that qualified it as a coup d’état.
Sissoko is using his beautiful music to call for peace and tranquillity in his beloved home country.
“The current situation in Mali (political crisis) is stressing us. We have to calm down, and especially to help each other to get out of this problem”
The album title “Djourou” means string in Bamanakan language,” Sissoko explained. “The spirit of this album is an invitation to stay together around my kora,” he said.
US TSA officials destroyed star Mali musician Ballaké Sissoko’s custom-made "impossible-to-replace" kora. The American’s still don’t get it, an angry Pan-Africanist tells me, it’s like Mali customs destroying Anne Akiko Meyers’ $16million violin. The outrage would be huge. Huh? pic.twitter.com/9GM5vN3i8p
— Charles Onyango-Obbo (@cobbo3) February 8, 2020
And that’s how he and 11 kora musicians staged Saturday’s concert in the capital city.
“The idea of the album Djourou, is the logical continuation of the other previous and of the future albums. The word Djourou in Bamanakan language means ‘the string’ and the spirit of this album is an invitation, to stay together around my kora.”
If for nothing else, many Malians can escape the current political uncertainty into the traditional melodies sounding from this kora — as Ballaké Sissoko hopes to continue using his family’s gift of music to spread positivity and unity amongst his Malian compatriots.