Interview
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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