Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko today releases the title track of his forthcoming 11th album, ’Djourou’, now due for rescheduled 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 Nouvelle Vague’s Camille, African legend Salif Keita, French rapper Oxmo Puccinoand French cellist Vincent Segal (with whom Sissoko has released two albums for Nø Førmat!) amongst others. ‘Djourou’’s title track – available now as a single release – sees Sissoko duet with leading female kora player Sona Jobarteh, from The Gambia. The new track arrives alongside a live performance video – both are now streaming on all platforms from here.


Ballaké sought out Sona for a collaboration with a specific wish to connect with the younger generation of kora players – to rejoin with their common forebears, weaving a thread across borders that were unknown to the griots back in the days when the Malian empire radiated over much of West Africa. Speaking about the recording the duet of ‘Djourou’ with Ballaké – a vital influence on her growing up as a young kora player – Sona recalls; You grow up listening to somebody, and that’s the person that has in many ways been your teacher, your inspiration since a very young age. The first time I heard him, sounded so different to me, the tone that he gets out of the instrument is so different. He says something to me, the phrasing and the melody he picks – and he’s technically amazing, but he doesn’t let that become more than the music. That’s something I’ve always respected about him.

The seeds for the Paris-based master kora player’s latest project were sown when Ballaké 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.

Oxmo Puccino was among the first to sign up. The recording of their meditative ‘Frotter Les Mains’ whose title, ‘rub hands’, mirrors the percussive elements that Ballaké created in the studio – was also a red letter day for Puccino. He recollects; “Vincent Segal helped me to take my Art to the next level – he presented me to Ballaké, who my parents used to listen to when he was playing in Mali’s National Orchestra. I used to dream when Vincent was speaking to me about their recording sessions. I have been waiting for this opportunity to meet. When I was invited to take part in the album, I only thought for 2 minutes before finding an obvious theme; the voice of our body, or rather its subtitle: our hands. I’m coming from a lineage of Blacksmiths and Ballaké is descended from a long line of Kora players.” 

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’.

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