Music

Interview: Ballaké Sissoko (No Format) | new single and video

Lifted from his recent album release on April 9 through No Format (also home to Oumou Sangaré), the title track ‘Djourou’ sees Ballaké duet with female kora player Sona Jobarteh. 

Having previously paired with Toumani Diabaté, Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaud, Ballaké’s new album also includes collabs with Nouvelle Vague’s Camille and African legend Salif Keita. Ballaké learnt Mali’s traditional kora at a young age from his father Djelimady Sissoko, a member of the legendary Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali.

Ballaké sought out Sona Jobarteh with a specific wish to connect with the younger generation of kora players, and to reconnect with their common forebears.

Watch the ‘Djourou’ live video here: 

The seeds for Ballaké’s latest project were sown by a desire to blend solo kora pieces with collaborations with unexpected artists with very little in common with the Mandinka musical genre for which his griot caste is celebrated. The intent also chimes with its title, ‘Djourou’ a Bambara word meaning string – a nod not just to the 21 strings of a kora, but the ties that also connect Sissoko to his collaborators on the album.

ALT: When did you find music?

I was born  with music, I learnt by watching and listening to my father, music is part of me.

ALT: How would you describe your sound or/and influence?

First, I was influenced by tradition and the Malian artists I was listening to when I was a kid, then when I started playing and working with different artists, I discovered new universes and my personal work and play was under influence of those meetings. So, curiosity is also how I develop my work.

ALT: Tell us about your new Album Djourou what does that mean and what influenced the title?

“Djourou” means string. String is also the link I have with others. This album is built around meetings with many different artists, we are all connected through this string. It is also my instrument with its 21 strings.

ALT: Do you have a favourite song on the album and who are some of the collaborations on this album?

I don’t have a favourite song; I enjoy all of them. Each one corresponds to very special moments spent with dear friends; it reflects the intimacy we had creating by playing together.

ALT: How has Covid-19 hit you professionally?

Covid means no more concerts with an audience, no more tour, no more travels. It is terrible for me  I enjoy so much going everywhere, meeting new people, so it is really sad. I am glad I had the chance to record and prepare this new album but without concerts it is like I miss one side of my life.

ALT: Tell us about your relationship with the Kora and Jeli?

My instrument is all for me, when I play, I close my eyes and my mind is free, I feel free. The Jeli talks about people’s life and keep the memory alive, with my instrument I tell stories that’s the Jeli’s mission.

ALT: How much of Djelimady and Sidiki Diabaté do you bring to your music?

I was taught Kora by Sidiki Diabate more than my father, they were both kora masters, I come from there, I have learned from them and have included their knowledge in my own play.

ALT: Who would you like to work with in  the future?

I am always open to new collaborations; I like to explore and see how I can bring my tradition to new sounds. I have no special idea at the moment, but I love Indian music so at some point I hope to meet some musicians from this tradition.

ALT: What do you like most about your job?

Traveling all over the world and playing in different countries with different cultures.

ALT: Where do you call home?

Home is where my family and friends are.

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