Only a small handful of West African Kora players have been heard by international audiences – and those fortunate enough to have experienced this mastery are almost always awestruck.
For these are more than musicians – they’re ‘griots’ or ‘Jalis’ (which means blood) – the oral historians born to tell the stories of their regions through song and sound – they’re the ‘keepers of collective memory’, who carry tradition through a bloodline that link generations over centuries.
With each artist comes the magic of their uniquely accumulated excellence, so it’s with the risk of appearing disrespectful to established virtuosos, that I present Ballaké Sissoko – a master of masters.
And it’s difficult to define the element that sets him apart, because he appears no different on the surface. They too are adept at plucking this 21-stringed, gourd instrument, and some may even seem to be faster with their finger-speed.
But here it’s beyond intricate rapidity – it must surely be a ‘soul thing’, because even with slower melodies, Ballake Sissoko reaches the individual, with frequencies that penetrate the forgotten aspects of our collective spirit.
This is prayer – of the purest order!