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Yacouba Sissoko

Master Kora Player

Yacouba Sissoko, is a Master kora player from the djely tradition. He has devoted his musical gift to expand the awareness of West African history and culture, spread the word of peace and empower his listeners to take charge and realize their imagined futures. His performances have a magical effect on audiences as he skillfully transforms traditional songs and stories that he learned from his forefathers into modern day messages of peace, love and harmony. His flexible virtuosity, which enables him to move seamlessly from one musical genre to another, has attracted the attention an eclectic mix of musicians who have sought him out as a collaborator.

He has performed toured and recorded with well-known African musicians, such as Sidiki Conde (Tokounou), Abdoulaye Diabate, Baaba Maal, and Kakande, and with many famous Western musicians, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Leroy Jenkins and Leni Stern. Easily transitioning between jazz, pop, R&B, and classical music, Yacouba can be seen regularly with Regina Carter, Rachel Brown, Oran Etkin and Benyoro.

In addition to performing as a soloist and a guest kora artist, Yacouba leads his own band SIYA. The band adeptly harmonizes the ancient practice of musical story telling on the solo kora with the modern fuller harmonies of today’s musical instrumentation. The fundamental principle of the band is to unite people and send a message to its listeners to return to the “source” of community and humanity; SIYA in Bambara means “Source”. The sound of SIYA represents the breakthrough of the past few generations of Western African musicians who have opened up this musical experience to new audiences, incorporating additional instruments and spanning musical genres.

Throughout West African history,
the kora was played as a solo
instrument by djelys, or
storytellers, whose roles
in society were to
perform exclusively for
kings, nobility, and
village chiefs. The
songs sung by djelys
were stories that had
been passed down from
generation to generation,
and captured the oral history
of the people and
culture of West Africa
describing social life,
cultural identify and
family backgrounds.

SIYA

SIYA represents a breakthrough of the past few generations of Western African musicians incorporating traditional and modern instruments and spanning musical genres.

World-renowned master kora player Yacouba Sissoko founded the band SIYA in 1999 in New York City. The band, which originally started as an informal trio, has matured into a quintet that adeptly harmonizes the ancient practice of musical story telling on the solo kora, originating in West Africa, with the modern fuller sounds of today’s musical instrumentation. The musicians of SIYA, most of who come from Mali, perform on traditional instruments that capture the hauntingly beautiful sounds from West Africa.

Yacouba Sissko leads the band playing the kora, a 21-string instrument, which is plucked like a harp. Throughout West African history, the kora was played as a solo instrument by djelys, or storytellers, whose roles in society were to perform for kings, nobility, and village chiefs. The songs sung by djelys were stories that had been passed down from generation to generation, and captured the oral history of the people and culture of West Africa describing social life, cultural identify and family backgrounds. Yacouba, who was born into a Djely griot family, formed SIYA to expand and share this tradition with those not traditionally exposed to these stories.

The other instruments of SIYA include the N’goni, a traditional guitar that was used by griots during the Manding Empire prior to the kora; the “talking drum”, a small drum held on the shoulder of the player and hit with a curved stick or the hand to mimic phrases of the human voice, requiring great dexterity by the player; the Flén/Calebasse, or calabash, that is easily recognized by its deep resounding bass sound frequent to West African music; and an acoustic guitar and/or trumpet both of which adds the more modern approach.

SIYA in Bambara, one of the official languages of Mali, means “Source”. The fundamental principle of the band is to unite people and send a message to its listeners to return to the “source” of community and humanity. Through its music, the band encourages the world to embrace love, peace, hospitality and education, and to help and forgive one another; each an important tenant to Malian living. It is highly spiritual music that inspires the listener to consider the future based on past learnings. The sound of SIYA represents the breakthrough of the past few generations of Western African musicians who have opened up this musical experience to new audiences, incorporating additional instruments and spanning musical genres from jazz, pop, R&B, classical.

SIYA currently performs regularly at large events, primarily participating in cultural exchange programs to expose others to the music and history from West Africa, specifically Mali. SIYA was selected to participate in the Carnegie Hall Education program in 2007, performed at the Mid-Atlantic Popular/American Culture Conference sponsored by President Bush in Baltimore, and in 2008 was selected with other performers such as Tracey Chapman to play for the Robert Kennedy’s Foundation.

SIYA in Bambara
means “Source”.

The fundamental
principle of the
band is to unite
people and send a
message to its
listeners to return
to the “source” of
community and
humanity.

General Manager
Kettly Nau
(646)-578-2421

DISCOGRAPHY

Yacouba Sissoko has recorded with a variety of artists including Paul Simon, Baaba Maal, Ami Koita, Regina Carter, Leni Stern, and Abdoulaye Diabate.

Yacouba’s flexible virtuosity spans diverse musical genres. For over a decade, prominent artists have sought him out for his musical contribution. His enchanting sound is prominently featured on tracks found on the following recordings:

Janjon (Mali)
Various – Badenya: Manden Jaliya
in New York City Smithsonian Folkways
2002

Fula Flute
Fula Flute Blue Monster
2002

Mali Lolo: Stars of Mali
Ali Farka Touré, Ali Farka Touré, Ousmane Kouyate,
Ousmane Kouyate, Ousmane Kouyate
Smithsonian Folkways
2003

Roots
Gipsy Kings Nonesuch
2004

Assiya
Ido Ziv Cd Baby
2005

Haran
Pharaoh’s Daughter Oyhoo
2007

Sidiki
Sidiki Conde Innova Records
2008

Connections
Tom Rossi Gaiam/Living Arts
2008

Sara
Abdoulaye Diabate Completely Nuts
2009

Mansa America
Fula Flute Completely Nuts
2009

Reverse Thread
Regina Carter
E1 Entertainment
2010

A Bag of Shells
Jamie Saft Tzadik
2010

Little Earth
Rahim Alhaj Ur Music
2010

Sa Belle Belle Ba
Leni Stern Leni Stern
2010

So Beautiful Or So What
Paul Simon Hear Music
2011

Disney Jazz, Vol. 1: Everybody Wants To Be a Cat
Walt Disney Records
2011

Visions
Kavita Shah
2014

SIYA represents
a breakthrough
of the past few
generations of
Western African musicians
incorporating
traditional and
modern instruments
and spanning
musical genres.

General Manager
Kettly Nau
(646)-578-2421
Download the Full Press Kit