Yacouba Sissoko was born in Kita, Mali to a long line of jelis. When he was nine, he began playing the kora and learning centuries-old oral traditions from his grandfather; by the time he was 15, he was performing with prominent African bands, which brought him to the US. Yacouba has toured and recorded with well-known African musicians, such as Amy Koïta, Baaba Maal, Sekouba “Bambino” Diabate, and Kerfala Kanté, and also with American musicians including Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Lauryn Hill, and Regina Carter. He effortlessly blends Malian traditions with a range of musical styles. In 2017, he released his first solo album SIYA.
For centuries, jelis—also called griots in French—have been the musical storytellers in West Africa, respected as keepers of history, interpreters of current events, advisers to rulers, and connectors of social groups and families. Yacouba Sissoko was born in Kita, Mali to a well-known jeli family; his grandparents, mother, siblings, and many of his cousins are all jelis.
Yacouba started learning the kora and the oral traditions associated with it from his grandfather at the age of nine. When he was 13, he moved to the capital city of Bamako. He eventually went on to attend the National Institute of the Arts. In Bamako, he captured the attention of the music world and began touring with noted international African artists. In 1998, he settled in the US, sharing the music and culture of his ancestors while also learning from the many cultures and styles of music he encountered here, developing his own singular style.