Manding kora music marks the launch of Black History Month

York University pays tribute to the ageless musical traditions and rhythms of Africanist dance and music as part of its celebration of Black History Month. World music icon Ballaké Sissoko, one of the world’s greatest soloists on the traditional Manding kora, makes a rare North American appearance Thursday, Feb. 5 at 7:30pm with a solo concert at York University’s Tribute Communities Recital Hall, Accolade East Building. Prior to his performance, Sissoko will participate in a free artist’s talk today at 1:30pm in the intimate setting of the McLean Performance Studio, 244 Accolade East Building on York’s Keele campus.

Sissoko’s evening concert on Thursday marks the official launch of Performing Diaspora 2009, the flagship program of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples at York University and co-presented by the Department of Music in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.

Throughout February, Performing Diaspora’s wide range of events and activities will animate venues at York University, University Heights’ Yorkgate Centre and neighbourhood schools. Events include performances, workshops, artist talks, school visits and community events that will serve as a catalyst to bring the University and community together to celebrate and engage with African and African Diaspora arts and culture.

Sissoko, Performing Diaspora’s inaugural artist, first captured international attention through his tours and recordings with blues musician Taj Mahal and kora player Toumani Diabaté. A renowned improviser, Sissoko helped redefine the modern language and expressive capabilities of the kora, a harp with 21 strings and a crystalline sound. His music is a masterful blend of African rhythms with Western scales and guitar chords that respects the spirit of tradition while forging a new, highly distinctive personal style.

Left: Sissoko in performance

Sissoko was born into the West African jeli or griot tradition (oral historians and musicians) in Mali. His first teacher was his father, Djelimady Sissoko, grand master of the Manding kora. At the age of 14, he replaced his father in the Ensemble Instrumental National of Mali. By the 1980s he was also playing in the electric bands of the leading jelimuso, including the legendary Kandia Kouyaté, with whom he toured and recorded extensively throughout the ’80s and ’90s. His solo recordings include Tomora, kora music from Mali and Deli.

Now living in Paris, Sissoko has recently engaged in adventurous cross-cultural collaborations with artists such as Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi, Chinese pipa virtuoso Liu Fang, multi-instrumentalist Ross Daley, and his current project ‘3MA’ with Moroccan oud player Driss El Maloumi and Madgascan valiha player Rajery.

Performing Diaspora 2009 is produced and presented by The Harriet Tubman Institute in partnership with the Faculty of Fine Arts and Faculty of Education and with sponsorship from the Tubman Social Justice Fund, Department of Dance, Department of Music, Fine Arts Student and Academic Services, Office of the Vice President Research & Innovation and Founders College. Additional supporters include the Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies and York University-TD Community Engagement Centre as well as the Faculty of Arts, Stong College, Winters College, Winters College Student Council, York University, Batuki Music, Small World Music and the African Dance Ensemble.

For more information on other events, visit the Performing Diaspora 2009 Web page on The Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples Web site.

Tickets to Sissoko’s concert on Feb. 5 are $25 or $15 for students and seniors and are available through the York University Box Office Web site or by calling ext. 55888. The artist’s talk with Sissoko (in French with English translation) on Feb. 4 at 1:30pm is free.