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Yacouba Sissoko was born in Kita, Mali, to a well-known djely family. Djelys are the musical storytellers in West Africa, a position that is inherited through a family bloodline. For centuries they have been the keepers of the factual history and the fictional fables of past rulers, nobles, social groups and families. Highly respected within their communities, djelys are responsible for keeping stories of the past alive and applicable to contemporary audiences. The kora was the traditional instrument that djelys played as the accompaniment to their songs.
At the age of 9,Yacouba started learning the kora and the oral traditions associated with it from his grandfather. By 15, he was touring the country sharing the stories that had been passed down through his family for centuries. Yacouba lived with his grandparents until he moved to Bamako, Mali’s capital, to attend the National Institute of the Arts. Based in the capital, he caught the attention of the music world and began touring with noted artists and ensembles such as Ami Koita, Kandia Kouyate, and l'Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, the orchestra that both his mother and grandmother had sung with. By the time he finished his studies, he was also touring with many great musical names in Mali.
In 1993, Yacouba joined the Ensemble Les Go de Koteba of Abidjan led by Souleymane Koli. Over the next several years Yacouba performed all over the world with the 45-piece band and made his first journey to the United States. Yacouba became determined to return to the United States not only to introduce and share the stories of his people but also to learn from other musicians and cultures. With this in mind, Yacouba began to incorporate other musical influences into his repertoire, developing his own unique style.
Yacouba did return tothe United States and moved to New York City in 1998. Immediately he was in high demand as a soloist, guest artist and collaborator. He performed, toured and recorded with both well known African musicians such as Baaba Maal, Sekou (Bambino) Diabate and Kerfala Kante, and with new up and coming ones such as Tapani Demba, and Awa Sangho. He was also a founding member of Super Mande, Tamalalou and Fula Flute.
Love, Peace, Harmony
Yacouba is in demand as one of the best kora players in the world, playing with jazz, Latin and R&B bands as well as traditional African songs. In addition to performing as a soloist and with his band SIYA, he has toured with a variety of well-known artists such as Regina Carter, Baaba Maal, and Roberto Fonseca. Yacouba has also recorded with Lauryn Hill, Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and Ami Koita.
Yacouba was not limited to African music. He began to transcend musical boundaries and was soon playing with jazz, pop, R&B, and classical musicians. Since then, he has recorded and performed with a variety of artists including Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Leroy Jenkins and Leni Stern and has been asked to play anything from Indian ragas to Appalachian tunes. He has recorded tracks on over 15 CDs with artists ranging from Sidiki Conde to Jayme Stone, and from Regina Carter to Rahim Alhaj.
Yacouba has also been seen at music festivals across the country exposing new audiences to the sound of the kora. He has performed at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, the Playboy Jazz Festival in Los Angeles, the New York Family Arts Festival in New York City, the Grant Park Music Festival in Millennium Park at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago, IL, the Portland Jazz Festival, and the Monterey Jazz Festival. In 2010 he was featured in a documentary film by the Africa Channel as part of their “Live from Red Kiva” broadcast. In 2016, he received a Sunshine Award for Performing Arts, African Music.
Rooted to give back to the community, Yacouba regularly performs for cultural programs and benefit concerts. He regularly performs for the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational and Cultural Center, partners with La Maison d'Art Gallery in Harlem to set up musical cultural exchanges and provides workshops and presentations to primary school and university students. Recognizing his educational contributions, in 2007 he was selected as a Teaching Artist by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall and returned again to Carnegie Hall in 2016, as a featured artists in the Musical Explorers Program in New York, NY and Savannah, GA.
Yacouba continues to blend effortlessly with other musical styles, whether it is performing Indian ragas or Appalachian tunes. Yacouba can be seen regularly touring with Regina Carter, Rachel Brown, Jordana de Lovely, Oran Etkin, Kavita Shah, Benyoro and his own band SIYA. His first solo CD is due to be released in 2017.
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