Acclaimed Malian-born, Paris-based kora player Ballaké Sissoko is the son of Djelimady Sissoko, a master kora player, best known for playing with the Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali. Drawn to the instrument at a very young age, the younger Sissoko was taught by his father. Tragically, Djelmady died while his children was very young — and Ballaké stepped up to take on the role of the family breadwinner and took his father’s place in the Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali.
A long-held fascination with genres and sounds outside of the scope of the Mandinka people’s scope – – i.e., flamenco guitar and sitar — inspired a series of critically applauded collaborations with a diverse and eclectic array of musicians across the globe, including a acclaimed French cellist Vincent Segal, Toumani Diabaté, legendary bluesman Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaudi.
Slated for a February 19, 2021 release through Nø Førmat Records, Sissoko’s 11th full-length album Djourou will feature solo compositions and a number of thoughtful collaborations with diverse and unexpected artists outside of Mandinka musical genre for which his griot caste is celebrated — and the list of collaborators include Nouvelle Vague’s Camille, African legend Salif Keita, leading female kora player Sona Jobareth, the aforementioned Vincent Segal and Malian-born, French emcee Oxmo Puccino among others.
Djourou, which derives its name from the Bambara word for string, can trace its origins to when Sissoko approached Nø Førmat label head Laurent BIzot with the proposition of blending solo kora pieces with unexpected collaborations. With a mutual emphasis between the artist and the label, that they take he time to confirm enriching and challenging partnerships with artists, who were also fans of Sissoko’s work, Djourou has been a slow-burn album in the making since 2018.
Djourou‘s first single is the mediative “Frotter Les Mains,” featuring acclaimed French emcee Oxmo Puccino. Deriving its name from the French term for “rub hands.” the track mirrors some of the song’s percussive elements that Sissoko created in the studio. Centered around Sissoko’s gorgeously cascading kora chords and Puccino’s dexterous flow, “Frotter Les Mains” is a much-needed bit of peace, thoughtless and kindness in a world gone absolutely batshit. Additionally, the song — in my mind, at least — serves as a vital connection between the ancient and the modern, between the West and Africa, and as a reminder that hip-hop is the lingua franca that binds us all.
Puccino was among the first artists to be recruited for the album. And interestingly, the studio sessions was a personal and professional highlight: he recalls that, he was introduced to Sissoko by Vincent Segal “as an uncle.” Puccino continues, “Life never leaves me alone: it either makes fun of me or it makes me feel so small. This time the staging was perfect. Vincent Segal helped me to take my art to the next level. This day 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 Bamako and their recording session. I have been waiting for this opportunity and to meet together. 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.”
Directed by Julien Borel and Vladimir Cagnolari, the recently released video for “Frotter Les Mains” features intimately and gorgeously shot footage of the duo in the studio.