Balla Kouyaté: Originally from Mali, West Africa, Balla is a djeli, a musician and oral historian in Malian society. He learned his instrument, the balafon, from his father, who is the guardian of the world’s first balafon, which dates from the 13th Century and is recognized by UNESCO as one of the 19 Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Here, he plays Sunjata, an epic song of praise for King Sunjata, the builder of the Mali empire. Balla is available for main-stage concerts as well as educational programming.
Balla is widely considered to be among the greatest balafon players today in the world. A virtuoso, he plays two instruments to get a chromatic scale, allowing him to play any genre of music in any key. His speed is astounding as he moves effortlessly between the two balafons, delivering his signature roulements and complex improvisations. Balla has been featured on at least 45 albums, including Angelique Kidjo’s Grammy-nominated “Oyo” and Yo-Yo Ma’s Grammy-winning “Sounds of Joy and Peace,” and has collaborated with Mamadou Diabate, Susan McKeown, Vusi Mahlasela, Roswell Rudd’s MALIcool ensemble, and Schlicht’s Tempore.