Friday, February 17, 2012
Mahaney Center for the Arts, Concert Hall
Balla Kouyate is considered to be among the greatest players of the balafon (predecessor to the xylophone) from the griot tradition in Mali. 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. Kouyate is joined in this performance by his ensemble, World Vision, fresh from a recent performance at the Kennedy Center.
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.
Balla Kouyaté is considered to be among the greatest balafon players in the world today. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments to get a chromatic scale, allowing him to play any genre of music in any key. His speed is astounding as he moves effortlessly between the two balafons, delivering his signature roulements and complex improvisations.
Balla 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, Balla spent his teenage years playing in the fields at harvest time in neighboring villages. Farmer's would bring kola nuts to his family to make their reservation months in advance as he became somewhat of a celebrity. Sturdy farmers would place Balla on a rock above the tall grasses and work for hours to the popular and traditional songs Balla had mastered while his mother sang.
In 1994, Balla 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, after returning from a brief stay in Paris. Spearheaded by their older brother Djelimory, the family put a band together, including brother Fantamady Kouyaté, who now tours with kora star, Toumani Diabaté's band.
La Famille Dokkala toured West Africa throughout the nineties backing both Djankine and Kaniba Oule. By 1997 Balla was in demand as a balafon player and he and brother Fantamadi began playing with singer Ami Koïta, including the prestigious OIA conference, which brought together 27 African presidents. Balla played for La Famille Dokkala and Ami Koïta among other popular singers until he left with his sister Kaniba Oule for a brief tour in the US in 2000.
Balla has been called on to play 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'sMALIcool ensemble and Ursel Schlicht's Ex Tempore.
In 2004, Balla played with Sidiki Condé at Carnegie Hall for a month-long residency for children. Balla also worked with Sidiki doing residencies in Florida and Minnesota in 2004, 2006 and 2008 with the VSA Arts organizations for people with various disabilities. Balla is currently working with a talented group of artists who he brought together in 2007 to form World Vision. The group has performed at festivals and venues across the country including the Chicago World Music Festival, Musikfest and The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in DC to name a very few. Early this year, Balla was honored to receive the 2010 Massachusetts Cultural Councils Fellowship in the Traditional Arts and his music was recorded at the Library of Congress in DC. Balla and World Vision have begun recording Balla's second CD due out in 2011. Stay tuned for more news about this dynamic group of musicians and check the listings for a show near you!
Balla dreams ultimately to reunite La Famille Dokkala and tour the world with his family, putting the balafon center stage!