Malian Traditional with Yacouba
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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.
Introduce your students to Yacouba with this “Meet Yacouba” video. Visit the video index to watch all the videos for Yacouba and the other Program Three artists.
Resources for Teachers
The following resources provide background information about the musical genre and culture. Some are intended to be shared with students; others are for teachers who may want to explore further on their own.
- Visit yacousiskora.com to hear more music by Yacouba.
- Ballaké Sissoko, “Famaden”
- Ali Farka Touré, “Awa dololo”
- Boubacar Traoré (also known as “Kar Kar”), “Kanou”
- Habib Koité, “N’Teri”
- Kassé Mady Diabaté, “Siran Mônia”
- Oumou Sangaré, “Néné”
- I Lost My Tooth in Africa, Penda Diakité
“Mali Bamako market musical instruments” by John Elk III.
“Dogon men and women dance during a village celebration, Mali” by Michael Dwyer.