About Ballaké Sissoko
One of the modern-day masters of his instrument, Ballaké Sissoko is a Malian kora player known for his instrumental innovation and numerous collaborations outside of West African music. He first rose to international success alongside fellow kora master Toumani Diabaté on the 1999 album New Ancient Strings, then spent the next two decades forging cross-cultural connections with musicians from around the globe. He is a member of the world music trio 3MA and has made several albums with classical cellist Vincent Ségal including 2015's enchanting Musique de Nuit. His 2021 album Djourou was another diverse affair that traversed rock, hip-hop, and classical.
Ballaké's father, Djelimady Sissoko, was a Gambian kora master who moved to Mali and joined the national orchestra. Born in 1968, Ballaké followed in the griot tradition of his father and began training on the instrument at a young age. When his father died in 1981, he took his place in the Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, though he was only 13. Over the next two decades, Sissoko gained notoriety as a performer and collaborator and began his recording career in partnership with cousin and fellow kora master Toumani Diabaté on the 1999 album New Ancient Strings. The following year, he released the solo-billed album Déli, which featured his wife, the vocalist Mama Draba.
Now based in Paris, Sissoko's collaborative nature and adventurous spirit led him to work with a variety of musicians, including Italian classical pianist Ludovico Einaudi on 2003's Diario Mali and singer Rokia Traoré on 2005's Tomora, which saw him again teaming up with Diabaté. He also formed the group 3MA, a collaboration with Moroccan oud player Driss el Maloumi and Madagascan valiha player Rajery, who released an album in 2008. With 2009's Chamber Music, Sissoko established yet another ongoing collaboration, this time with French cellist Vincent Ségal. On Sissoko's next solo LP, 2013's At Peace, Ségal acted as producer, and in 2015 the two reunited for another duo album, Musique de Nuit. Released in 2021, Djourou featured a typically eclectic array of guests, from French pop singer Camille to Malian rapper Oxmo Puccino. ~ Jason Birchmeier & Timothy Monger