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Photo by Paul CHARBIT/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

Ballaké Sissoko Speaks About US Customs Breaking His Kora

In a new interview with OkayAfrica, the Malian musician tells us about the value of his custom-made kora. "It takes many hours to get the precious sound... the quality of a traditional instrument is very different."

You can now donate to a GoFundMe for Ballaké Sissoko started by his label No Format.

Malian musician Ballaké Sissoko has been asking U.S. customs for answers following the notable damage to his kora following his American tour.

According to Sissoko, upon arriving in Paris and opening his luggage, he found a leaflet from US customs officials which stated that they had opened the instrument's case for inspection purposes. However, the leaflet said nothing about the disassembly of the instrument itself.

"The strings, bridge and entire, delicate and complex sound system of amplification has been taken apart," Sissoko has mentioned. "Even if all the components that have been disassembled were intact, it takes weeks before a kora of this calibre can return to its previous state of resonance. These kinds of custom-made koras are simply impossible to replace. In Mali, the jihadists threaten to destroy musical instruments, cut the tongues out of singers, and silence Mali's great musical heritage. And yet, ironically, it is the USA customs that have in their own way managed to do this."

Sissoko is a contemporary master of the kora who rose to fame in 1999 after featuring on fellow kora player Toumani Diabaté's album New Ancient Strings. The following year,he released his debut solo album, Déli, which features his wife and vocalist Mama Draba, among several other musicians.

The T.S.A. recently issued a statement denying that it opened Sissoko's case.

We spoke to the Malian artist below about this ordeal.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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What brought you to the U.S.?

I was on tour with the African strings trio 3MA. We played in LA, Berkeley, Miami , Chicago and New York.

It was during a flight from New York to Paris that this occurred. Did you have any issues getting the instrument into the U.S. in the first place?

I've traveled across the world for 30 years, My kora has a very good flight case. Although the shape is a bit different and considered as oversized luggage by air companies, it generally goes well.

Can you tell us the extent of the damage to the kora?

This kora is totally damaged and a new one is needed, it has been dissembled. The microsystem is broken.

Have you had issues traveling with the kora before?

Some years ago, while also on tour in the United States with Vincent Ségal, another kora was damaged but not dissembled like this time.

Does this prevent you from playing any upcoming concerts?

Fortunately my next concert is on February 28th so it leaves time to create a new instrument that should be ready on the 27th!

How do you even go about repairing this kora? Is it possible to even estimate a cost of these damages?

A new kora will cost around €5,000. But the value cannot be really estimated because it takes many hours to get the precious sound and the quality of a traditional instrument is very different. It is not a simple computer that you can change!

What other shows or releases should people be looking for from you?

I have a European tour with 3MA this March, going to London, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Sevilla, Paris... and my new solo album will be out in October on label NoFormat.

UPDATE 11/02: Ballaké will be performing at Jazz Cafe on March 22nd. Find out more here.

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Angelique Kidjo performs onstage during the 62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony at Microsoft Theater on January 26, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)

'Take Africa Out of It and There's No Music for Y’all,' Angelique Kidjo on Success, ‘World Music’ & Championing New African Talent

OkayAfrica caught up with the legendary Beninese singer following her recent Grammy win and her feature on the collaborative electronic track 'Milambi.'

Last month, Angelique Kidjo won her fourth Grammy in the 'Best World Music' category. But it wasn't quite like every other year she had been nominated for the award. This time she shared the nomination with fellow African act Burna Boy, the first artist of the continent's current afropop scene to earn a nomination. While there's no question that Kidjo, who won for her 2019 album Celia, was beyond deserving (this was by no means a Kendrick-Macklemore scenario), Kidjo made the conscious decision to dedicate her award to Burna and urged viewers to pay attention to the wealth of new talent coming from the continent. "The new generation of artists coming from Africa are going to take you by storm and the time has come," said the artist.

Her vocal support for African talent isn't new though. As Kidjo notes, she gave a similarly memorable speech when she won four years ago for her album Sings, and she sounds fierce and impassioned as she speaks about it over the phone. After all, Kidjo has always been notably forward-looking in life and in music—experimentation doesn't scare her. Her latest work is on a futuristic, electronic project from Swiss DJ and producer Pablo Nouvelle and she expresses excitement about the novel methods in which African artists are creating and amplifying their music.

We caught up with Kidjo following her latest Grammy win and the release of her joint single with Nouvelle, "Milambi," to discuss her support of the new crop of talent emerging from the continent, fame, the controversy around the 'Best World Music' category, and remaining true to her identity in a Western-oriented music industry.

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Courtesy of Universal Music Group.

In Conversation with Daniel Kaluuya and Melina Matsoukas: 'This isn't a Black Bonnie and Clyde film—our stories are singular, they're ours.'

'Queen and Slim' lands in South Africa.

Melina Matsoukas and Daniel Kaluuya are everything their surroundings at the opulent Saxon Hotel are not—down-to-earth and even comedic at times. Despite the harsh lights and cameras constantly in their faces, they joke around and make the space inviting. They're also eager to know and pronounce the names of everyone they meet correctly. "It's Rufaro with an 'R'? Is that how you say it?" Kaluuya asks me as he shakes my hand.

Matsoukas, a two-time Grammy award winning director and Kaluuya, an A-list actor who's starred in massive titles including Black Panther and Get Out, have every reason to be boastful about their achievements and yet instead, they're relatable.

The duo is in South Africa to promote their recent film Queen Slim which is hitting theaters today and follows the eventful lives of a Black couple on the run after killing a police officer. It's a film steeped in complexity and layered themes to do with racism, police brutality and of course Black love.

We caught up with both of them to talk about just what it took from each of them to bring the powerful story to the big screen.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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"Zion 9, 2018" (inkjet on Hahnemuhle photo rag)" by Mohau Modisakeng. Photo courtesy of Jenkins Johnson Gallery.

South African Artist Mohau Modisakeng Makes Solo NYC Debut With 'A Promised Land'

The artist will present the video installation 'ZION' and other works centering on the "global history of displacement of Black communities" at the Jenkins Johnson Gallery in Brooklyn.

Renowned South African visual artist Mohau Modisakeng presents A Promised Land, his latest solo exhibition, opening at Brooklyn's Jenkins Johnson Gallery this month. This marks the New York debut of Modisakeng's ZION video installation, based on the artists's 2017 performance art series by the same name. It originally debuted at the Performa Biennial.

"In ZION the artist deals with the relationship between body, place and the global history of displacement of Black communities," reads a press release. "There is an idea that all people are meant to belong somewhere, yet in reality there are millions of people who are unsettled, in search of refuge, migrating across borders and landscapes for various reasons."

In addition to the video, the show also features seven large-scale photographs that communicate themes of Black displacement. From 19th century Black settlements in New York City, which as the press release notes, were eradicated to clear space for the development of Central Park, to the scores of Africans who have faced conflict that has led them to life as refugees in foreign lands.

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Rema in "Beamer (Bad Boys)" (Youtube)

The 10 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Tony Allen x Hugh Masekela, Sarkodie, Rema, Costa Titch x Riky Rick x AKA and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

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