Master Kora player to perform at Berea College

Master Kora player to perform at Berea College

April 3, 2024

By Paula Keshderian

BEREA, Ky. – West African kora player Yacouba Sissoko will visit the Berea College campus on April 4 for a Stephenson Memorial Concert.

According to his website, Yacouba Sissoko was born into a musical family in Kita, Mali. His mother Oumou Tounkara and his grandmother Bintouba Diabate were both celebrated singers in Mali. His grandfather, Samakoun Tounkara, was a kora player who was honored by the president of Mali with a trophy for the mastery of the kora.

With the help of his grandfather, Sissoko started learning the kora, a traditional 21-stringed instrument played in West Africa, at the age of nine. By the age of 15, he toured the country and started his journey of passing down the stories that had been shared through his family for centuries.

After moving to Bamako, Mali’s capital, to attend the National Institute of the Arts, Sissoko's musical talents impressed the musical world. He began touring with artists and ensembles such as Ami Koita, Kandia Kouyate, the Raoul Fulero Ensemble and l'Ensemble National du Mali.

In 1993, Sissoko joined the Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan. He visited the United States with this group for the first time and was determined to come back to share stories and traditions of West Africa and to learn from other musicians and cultures.

In 1998, Yacouba moved to New York City. He quickly became a desirable soloist, guest artist and collaborator.

Sissoko blends his music with jazz, pop, R&B and classical music. He has performed with artists such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon and Leroy Jenkins. Moreover, he has recorded tracks on more than 15 CDs with a range of artists.

Yacouba regularly performs at festivals, cultural programs and benefit concerts. He also leads workshops and presentations to primary school and university students to expand awareness of West African history and culture, spread the word of peace and inspire listeners to take charge of their futures.

In 2007, Sissoko was selected as a Teaching Artist by the Weill Music Institute at Carnegie Hall and Carnegie’s Musical Explorers program.

Currently, Yacouba regularly performs with Regina Carter and his band, SIYA.

Sissoko's performance will be the last Stevenson Memorial Concert for the Spring 2024 semester. The Stevenson Memorial Concert series is sponsored by the family of Dr. John B. Stephenson – Berea College’s seventh president. Guest performers come from a range of musical and cultural backgrounds introducing Berea College students and the community to different genres and styles of music.

The performance begins at 8 p.m. in Phelps Stokes Chapel. The event is free and open to the public.

About Berea College

Berea College, the first interracial and coeducational college in the South, focuses on learning, labor and service. The College only admits academically promising students with limited financial resources, primarily from Kentucky and Appalachia, although students come from 45 states and 70 countries. Every Berea student receives a Tuition Promise Scholarship, which means no Berea student pays for tuition. Berea is one of nine federally recognized Work Colleges, where students work at least 10 hours a week to earn money for books, housing, and meals. The College’s motto, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” speaks to its inclusive Christian character.