December 19, 2017

Balla Kouyate & World Vision: Traditional Malian Music from Massachusetts

Balla Kouyate is a griot and virtuoso player of the balaphon. Considered the predecessor of the xylophone and the first Mande instrument, the balafon is made up of wood slats of varying lengths. The slats are secured over two rows of calabash gourds, which serve as natural amplifiers. Each gourd is punctured with small holes over which Balla places thin plastic tape. The vibrating air rattles the plastic to create the desired sound. Were he back home in Mali, Balla would use spider webs (collected from kitchen walls) to cover the holes. The first known balafon dates back to the 13th century and remains under the guardianship of the Kouyate family. It is considered a UNESCO-protected Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Once a year it is brought out and played during a ceremony. In this concert Kouyate performs with singer Adjaratou "Tapani" Demba, Sekou "Pablo" Dembele, Makane Kouyate, Idrissa Kone, Daniel Day, and Raja Kassis.

Speaker Biography: To say that Kouyate was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Balla Faseke, the first of an unbroken line of djelis, or griots, in the Kouyate clan. The members of this family are regarded as the original praise-singers of the Malinke people, one of the ethnic groups found across much of West Africa. Djelis are the oral historians, musicians and performers who keep alive and celebrate the history of the Mande people of Mali, Guinea and other West African countries. Kouyate frequently performs traditional music at weddings, baptisms, and other domestic ceremonies within the West African immigrant communities of Boston, New York City, and beyond, and also leads the fusion group World Vision. He often accompanies kora master Mamadou Diabate, 2009 Grammy winner in Traditional World Music, and in 2004 joined NEA National Heritage Fellow Sidiki Cond Kouyate for a month-long residency at Carnegie Hall. In 2010, Balla Kouyate was awarded a Massachusetts Cultural Council Fellowship in the Traditional Arts.

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