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World-renowned master kora player Yacouba Sissoko founded the band SIYA in 1999 in New York City.  The band, which originally started as an informal trio, has matured into a quintet that adeptly harmonizes the ancient practice of musical story telling on the solo kora, originating in West Africa, with the modern fuller sounds of today’s musical instrumentation. The musicians of SIYA, most of who come from Mali, perform on traditional instruments that capture the hauntingly beautiful sounds from West Africa. 

Yacouba Sissko leads the band playing the kora, a 21-string instrument, which is plucked like a harp. Throughout West African history, the kora was played as a solo instrument by djelys, or storytellers, whose roles in society were to perform exclusively for kings, nobility, and village chiefs. The songs sung by djelys were stories that had been passed down from generation to generation and captured the oral history of the people and culture of West Africa describing social life, cultural identify and family backgrounds.  Yacouba, who was born into a djely family, formed SIYA to expand and share this tradition with those not traditionally exposed to these stories.

The other instruments of SIYA include the N’goni, a traditional guitar that was used by djelys during the Manding Empire prior to the kora; the “talking drum”, a small drum held on the shoulder of the player and hit with a curved stick or the hand to mimic phrases of the human voice, requiring great dexterity by the player; the Flén/Calebasse, or calabash, that is easily recognized by its deep resounding bass sound frequent to West African music; and an acoustic guitar and/or trumpet both of which adds the more modern approach.


We are very excited to have you back at our events and would like to remind you that we are still in the midst of the pandemic. Please be considerate of your fellow guests and stay home if you’re feeling unwell. Also, consider wearing a mask when attending indoor BPL Presents events. You’ll be doing your part to help keep yourself and everyone healthy and safe.

Mali Magic is generously supported by Tauck Ritzau Innovative Philanthropy and The Morris & Alma Schapiro Fund.

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