Malian kora player Ballaké Sissoko releases the title track of his forthcoming 11th album today – Djourou is due for rescheduled release on April 9, via Parisian label Nø Førmat! – home to Oumou Sangaré, Blick Bassy, Mélissa Laveaux. Title track Djourou – available now as a single release – sees Sissoko duet with leading female kora player Sona Jobarteh, from The Gambia.
Previous partnerships with Toumani Diabaté, Taj Mahal and Ludovic Einaudi have been very fruitfil and the new album draws together solo compositions alongside collaborations with Nouvelle Vague’s Camille, African legend Salif Keita, French rapper Oxmo Puccino and French cellist Vincent Segal (with whom Sissoko has released two albums for Nø Førmat!) amongst others.
Ballaké sought out Sona for a collaboration with a specific wish to connect with the younger generation of kora players. Speaking about the recording the duet of Djourou with Ballaké, Sona says: “You grow up listening to somebody, and that’s the person that has in many ways been your teacher, your inspiration since a very young age. The first time I heard him, sounded so different to me, the tone that he gets out of the instrument is so different. He says something to me, the phrasing and the melody he picks – and he’s technically amazing, but he doesn’t let that become more than the music. That’s something I’ve always respected about him.” The new track arrives alongside a live performance video – both are now streaming on all platforms.
Ballaké – who is Paris-based – approached Nø Førmat! to propose an album blending solo kora pieces with unexpected collaborations and sought to seek out diverse artists with very little in common with the Mandinka musical genre for which his griot caste is celebrated. Label head Laurent Bizot explains: “With a mutual emphasis placed on taking the time to confirm enriching partnerships with artists who are crucially also fans of Ballaké’s work, Djourou has been a slow-burn project, in the making since 2018. The album’s careful intention also chimes with its title, ‘djourou’ a Bambara word meaning string. A nod not just to the 21 strings found on a kora, but the ties that also connect Sissoko to the artists who collaborate with him across the new album.”
Oxmo Puccino collaborates on the meditative Frotter Les Mains, he says: “Vincent Segal helped me to take my Art to the next level – 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 their recording sessions. I have been waiting for this opportunity to meet. When I was invited to take part in the album, I only thought for two 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.”
Ballaké Sissoko was first drawn to the kora at a young age, learning from his father Djelimady Sissoko, a master performer who played with the Ensemble Instrumental Du Mali, of which he was also deputy director. Djelimady passed away whien his children were still young. Ballaké stepped up to take on his role, both as breadwinner for the family, as well as in his country’s national orchestra. A natural fascination with other genres beyond Mandinka’s scope such as flamenco guitar and the Indian sitar kick-started a series of critically praised collaborations including those with Vincent Segal, an ongoing musical conversation which is still paying dividends here on Djourou.