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Malian Traditional with Yacouba

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.

Meet Yacouba!

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.


Mali Bamako market musical instruments
Lesson 1: Learning “Kelefaba”
Students will sing “Kelefaba,” and learn how a simple, two-note pattern on the kora provides the foundation for the song.
Dogon men and women dance
Lesson 2: Learning “Wawanko”
Students will learn to sing in call and response and create their own movements.

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.



Literacy Extension

Image Credits

“Mali Bamako market musical instruments” by John Elk III.
“Dogon men and women dance during a village celebration, Mali” by Michael Dwyer.

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