Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko today releases a new single and video, ‘Kora’, which sees the virtuoso duet with the French singer Camille (also of Nouvelle Vague). The track is lifted from Sissoko’s forthcoming 11th album, ’Djourou’, now due for release on April 9, 2021 via Parisian label Nø Førmat! (Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy, Mélissa Laveaux). Having previously partnered on projects with Toumani Diabaté, Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaudi, the new album draws together solo compositions alongside thoughtful collaborations with African legend Salif Keita, French rapper Oxmo Puccino and French cellist Vincent Segal (with whom Sissoko has released two albums for Nø Førmat!) amongst others. The video and audio for ‘Kora’ are now streaming across all platforms from here.



This latest collaborative track – which arrives alongside a simple yet striking performance clip shot in Paris’ Bois de Vincennes park by Julien Borel and Vladimir Cagnolari – sees Camille deliver lyrics which are a love letter to Ballaké’s instrument itself. Speaking about their partnership, she recalls;  When I met Ballaké, we said to ourselves that to talk to each other we had to play together, and that’s how we spoke best: we played under a tree, outside, and part of the melody came to me like that, I wanted to write a song about the kora, the mystery of this instrument, and I started asking him questions: about woodwind, etc. but it’s not a luthier’s song, it’s a love song. Love is fire, love is water. And the sound of the kora is like flowing water.

The seeds for Paris-based Sissoko’s latest project were sown when he approached Nø Førmat! to propose an album blending solo kora pieces with unexpected collaborations. For the latter element, Sissoko’s brief was simple – to seek out diverse artists with very little in common with the Mandinka musical genre for which his griot caste is celebrated. As label head Laurent Bizot puts it, “Challenge accepted!” With a mutual emphasis placed on taking the time to confirm enriching partnerships with artists who are crucially also fans of Ballaké’s work, ‘Djourou’ has been a slow-burn project, in the making since 2018. The album’s careful intention also chimes with its title, ‘djourou’ a Bambara word meaning string. A nod not just to the 21 strings found on a kora, but the ties that also connect Sissoko to the artists who collaborate with him across the new album.

Ballaké Sissoko was first drawn to the kora at a young age, learning from his father Djelimady Sissoko, a master performer who played with the Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali, of which he was also deputy director. When Djelimady passed away whilst his children were still young, Ballaké stepped up to take on his role not only as breadwinner for the family but in his country’s national orchestra. A natural fascination with other genres beyond Mandinka’s scope such as flamenco guitar and and the Indian sitar kick-started a series of critically praised collaborations including those with Vincent Segal, an ongoing musical conversation which is still paying dividends here on ‘Djourou’.