Middlebury

Balla Kouyaté and World Vision Bring the Sounds of Mali to Middlebury

July 1, 2014

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Middlebury, VT—Master balafon player Balla Kouyaté will perform music from the griot tradition of Mali on Friday, February 17, 2012, at 8:00 p.m.at the Mahaney Center for the Arts Concert Hall. His ensemble World Vision, fresh from a performance at the Kennedy Center, will join him with acoustic guitar, tama (talking drum), djembé/banjo, electric bass guitar, and vocals.

balla_kouyate_lgKouyaté is considered to be among the greatest players of the balafon (predecessor to the xylophone) today. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments to get a chromatic scale, which allows him to play any genre and any key. He moves effortlessly and dexterously between the balafons, delivering his signature roulements and complex improvisations. He last performed at Middlebury in an ensemble alongside kora player Mamadou Diabaté on the Performing Arts Series in 2003 and 2004.

 

Kouyaté was raised in the Djeli (griot) tradition in Mali. As the first Djelis of the Mandé Empire, the Kouyatés are an important family in West Africa. Beginning his formal training at the age of six, Kouyaté spent his teenage years performing at harvest time in the fields of neighboring villages. As he became somewhat of a celebrity, farmers would reserve his performance months in advance, using kola nuts as currency. Sturdy farmers would place the young Kouyaté on a rock above the tall grasses, and then work for hours to his popular and traditional songs.

ballakouyateIn 1994, Kouyaté became a member of the renowned Ensemble Nationale du Mali. During these years, his brother Djankine Kouyaté became the most popular Djeli ceremony singer in Bamako, and his sister Kaniba Oule became a pop star in West Africa. Spearheaded by their older brother Djelimory, the family put a band together, including brother Fantamady, who now tours with kora star Toumani Diabaté’s band. La Famille Dokkala toured West Africa throughout the 1990s, backing both Djankine and Kaniba Oule.

 

Kouyaté has played with many African artists touring in the United States, and his superior musicianship has been featured on at least 45 albums, including Angelique Kidjo’s Grammy-nominated “Oyo” and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning “Sounds of Joy and Peace.” He has worked extensively with Grammy award-winning kora master Mamadou Diabaté, playing venues such as Lincoln Center Outdoor Festival, Symphony Space, and festivals around the country. He has also collaborated with Susan McKeown, Vusi Mahlasela, Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool ensemble and Ursel Schlicht’s Ex Tempore.

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In 2004, Kouyaté played with Sidiki Condé at Carnegie Hall for a month-long residency for children. The pair launched a series of residencies in Florida and Minnesota in 2004, 2006, and 2008 with the VSA Arts organizations for people with disabilities. In 2010, Kouyaté was awarded the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s Fellowship in the Traditional Arts, and his music was recorded at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. His ultimate dream is to reunite La Famille Dokkala, and tour the world with his family, putting the balafon center stage!

This concert is funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies. Sponsored by the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series, and presented in conjunction with the exhibition Environment and Object in Recent African Art at the Middlebury College Museum of Art.

Residency activities associated with this performance are made possible by the Rothrock Family Fund for Experiential Learning in the Performing Arts, established in 2011, which supports opportunities that broaden the scope of Middlebury students’ experience in the performing arts. As part of his Middlebury visit, Kouyate will provide a lecture/demonstration on West African music for Middlebury students.

The concert by Balla Kouyaté and World Vision will take place on Friday, February 17, 2012, at 8:00 p.m., at Middlebury College’s Mahaney Center for the Arts, in the Concert Hall. Tickets are $25 for the general public; $20 for Middlebury College faculty, staff, alumni, emeriti, and other ID card holders; and $6 for Middlebury College students. For more information, call (802) 443-MIDD (6433) or go to http://go.middlebury.edu/arts.