The Kouyate cousins of Niagassola

Famille Nigassola 2

Family Niagassola at home in Bamako 2010

This group of first cousins belong to a celebrated family of balafon (22-key xylophone) players from a remote village called Niagassola across the border in Guinea. Here, the grandfather, Djeli Sekou Kouyate, is the custodian of the “Sosso bala”, the original balafon that was played for Sunjata Keita, founder of the Mali empire in 1235. This balafon, considered sacred, is kept in a special hut in Niagassola and is rarely played in public. In 2001, the “Sosso bala” was declared a site of intangible oral heritage by UNESCO.

Moussa and Techerif are the son and daughter respectively of Fantamady Kouyate, one of Mali’s leading guitarists. Djeli Sekou and Tata are son and daughter respectively of Djanguiné Kouyate, a singer, and Nansiramady is the son of Isiaka Kouyate, an orator who lives in Paris. The Kouyates from Niagassola live in Bamako, because it is easier for them to make a living as musicians there, but they return to Niagassola frequently, taking the children whenever there is a school holiday.

Sosso balatigi with grandsons

Soso Balatigi, the custodian of the Sosso bala with grandsons Moussa, Djeli Sekou and Nansiramady in Niagassola 2011

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© Lucy Durán, Nicolas Magriel, Geoff Baker 2011