Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba
Renowned griot kora player and vocalist Diali Keba Cissokho is the inheritor of a centuries-old Mande musical culture. Together, Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba sustains one of West Africa’s most expressive legacies with their own energetic interpretations.
Representation and Touring Formats
Touring Formats: Quintet
Educational: Residencies, workshops & school events
Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba ecstatically explore the spiritual songs, stories, and rhythms of Senegal’s millennia-old Mandé culture. Indeed, Cissokho comes from a long line of prominent griots who are entrusted to maintain a West African village’s genealogies and important ceremonial affairs through song. But he is much more than a preservationist. Cissokho and his band, Kaira Ba, effortlessly integrate the traditional sounds of the kora with a modern rush of electric guitar and an exuberant rhythm section. Together, Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba sustain one of West Africa’s most expressive legacies with their own energetic interpretations.
The band formed in North Carolina in January of 2011, shortly after Cissokho’s immigration to the US. Kaira Ba has produced three full length albums, toured extensively in the US, and traveled twice as a band to Senegal. In 2014, Kaira Ba was nominated for the prestigious continent-wide All Africa Music Award (AFRIMA) in the category “Best African Group” for their album The Great Peace . In 2018 the band released its most ambitious album to date, Routes, which was recorded alongside a broad cast of guests in both North Carolina and Senegal. The album was met with critical acclaim upon its releases, being favorably reviewed by Afropop Worldwide, The Financial Times, OkayAfrica, the famed rock critic Robert Christgau for Noisey/Vice, and Songlines who wrote, “ This album is up there with the groundbreaking recordings of Thione Seck, Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour.” Kaira Ba has performed and taught at Universities, appeared in front of large festival audiences and shared stages with some of Africa’s most prominent international artists. In all its work, Kaira Ba is committed to sharing its story and music in the name of cross-cultural learning, believing that music has the power to transgress borders and serve as an important resource for education, restoration and healing.
Diali Keba Cissokho (kora, vocals) A renowned korist and percussionist from Senegal, Diali moved to the US after years of performing and teaching in Senegal and in Europe. Born into a rich ancestry of Manding griots (jalis), Diali has been playing traditional West African music for as long as he can remember. While his greatest love is the kora, a 21-stringed West African bridge harp, he is also an accomplished singer, songwriter, and percussionist. Historically, each village had its own griot who told tales of births, deaths, marriages, battles, hunts, affairs, and other important events and celebrations. In Mande society the griot, or jeli, served as a historian, advisor, praise singer, and storyteller. These musicians served as walking history books, preserving and sharing the stories and traditions of their culture through song. This inherited tradition, with deep connections to spiritual, social, and political powers, has been passed down through generations. Diali’s mother, MoussuKeba Diebate, and father, Ibrahima Cissokho, both hailed from long lines of griot musicians. Diali’s grandfather was the famed griot korist Lalo Keba Drame, who was among the first griots to tour internationally in the 1960’s, after his recordings became popular both within and outside of Senegal. Diali seeks to honor his ancestors through all of his work as performer, teacher, and collaborator.
Jonathan Henderson (bass) Currently a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at Duke University, Jonathan is a multi-instrumentalist active as a composer, producer, and educator. He has studied under master Brazilian percussionist Jorge Alabe and contemporary classical composer Stephen Jaffe, worked alongside Senegalese griot Diali Cissokho and collaborated with talented artists in the US, West Africa, Brazil and Indonesia. Most recently, Jonathan produced Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba’s critically acclaimed album Routes . Recorded on two sides of the Atlantic and enlisting the contributions of over 30 musicians in North Carolina and Senegal, Routes was released on Jonathan’s record label, Twelve Eight Records in June of 2018. Jonathan has composed music for film and theater, and taught courses in music at the high school and college level. Jonathan is a co-founder of Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba and regular contributor to numerous other bands and performing ensembles. He holds a master’s degree in ethnomusicology from Duke University. Find out more at: https://www.twelveeightrecords.com/ and http://www.jhendersonmusic.com/
Will Ridenour (percussion) is a professional musician from Greensboro, NC who specializes in international folkloric percussion as well as the kora, a harp-lute from West Africa. Since 1997, Will has studied with master kora and percussion teachers in Mali, Senegal, Sweden, and the US, including 4 study trips to West Africa. Will holds a B.A. in Anthropology from UNC-Chapel Hill and has been the recipient of two North Carolina Arts Council grants for musical projects centering around the kora. He has performed in 28 countries worldwide, and has scored productions for dance, theater, and documentary film. Currently, Will works with children and adults in schools, camps, and hospitals, and records and performs with Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba , Grand Shores ,
Sewa Beats, Paperhand Puppet Intervention , and other collaborative projects. Check out his website here.
John Westmoreland (guitar) has been performing professionally for over a decade. He began playing blues, rock, and folk music as a teenager and went on to study Jazz and Classical Composition at Berklee College of Music where he was a recipient of the BEST scholarship. In 2011 he became a founding member and lead guitarist for Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba. John also writes and performs his own original music which can be heard on his 2018 debut album “Cast Fire.” Aside from standard performance contexts, John provides music for yoga classes and meditation, relaxation music sessions for people with Alzheimers and Dementia, and performs as part of UNC Hospital’s Door to Door music program. In 2014 with the help of an Emerging Artists Grant from the Durham Arts Council John travelled to South America to study ceremonial healing music of the Upper Amazon and Andes regions of Peru. Currently he’s working on a performance and ancestral research project centered around the life and work of T-Bone Slim (Matti V. Huhta), a first generation Finnish-American hobo poet, songwriter and activist who John recently discovered was his great grandmother’s older brother.
Austin McCall (drum set) is a professional musician from Chapel Hill, NC specializing in drum set and percussion. He has studied with some of the Greats such as Mama Kone (percussion, Habib Koite), Frank Worrell (drum set, Jack Dejohnette), and Billy Martin (drum set, Medeski Martin & Wood). He has travelled studied percussion and drum set in many places over the years, including 3 trips to West Africa. Austin is a co-founder of Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, and performs with other acts such as Paperhand Puppet Intervention, Jonathan Byrd, Violet Bell, and Scythian. He is the co-creator/co-director of “Lumanity”, An illuminated spectacle of one’s journey through light, and rhythm. Austin’s approach to the drum set is not only one as a drummer, but also a percussionist, which allows him to explore the possibilities from a different angle, such as playing dun dun, calabash, or djembe patterns on drum set.
“As a band leader, Diali Cissokho has a commanding voice, and excellent kora skills; he is clearly a great composer with a visionary approach to the integration of other genres with his Senegalese roots. This album is up there with the groundbreaking recordings of Thione Seck, Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour.”
Robert Christgau for Noisy/ Vice:
Routes is “a genuinely and often beautifully syncretic evocation of a double identity that would be
hard to match and impossible to duplicate.” read more…
Routes is “in its essence Senegalese but with a universality that translates beautifully across cultures,” read more…
“Routes is the perfect showcase for Kaira Ba’s unique fusion of Senegalese and American musical traditions, as well as a demonstration of cross-cultural collaboration and mutual respect between band members who welcomed an immigrant to their community.” read more…
When Cissokho immigrated from Senegal to North Carolina, he initiated a collaboration that he hoped might bridge the Atlantic, connecting worlds thousands of miles apart but bound by a shared history. Over the past eight years, Kaira Ba has done just that, producing three full-length albums, touring extensively in the United States, and voyaging twice as a band to Senegal to collaborate with Diali’s extended family and community. In 2014, the band was nominated for the prestigious continent-wide All Africa Music Award (AFRIMA) in the category “Best African Group” for their album The Great Peace . In 2018 the band released Routes , its most ambitious album to date . Recorded in both North Carolina and Senegal, the album was met with critical acclaim. Songlines hailed the album as “up there with the groundbreaking recordings of Thione Seck, Baaba Maal and Youssou N’Dour.”
Kaira Ba is available for performances as well as classroom presentations and workshops. Facilitated by Duke University ethnomusicologist and band member Jonathan Henderson, along with members of Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba, these experiences offer a unique window into West African music and cross-cultural collaboration through the arts. Study guides, extended presenter resources, and scores are available upon request. The band will work with presenters to customize residency experiences, but a sampling of workshop and presentation topics includes:
Mande Music and the Kora: Griot History and Culture Through Song and Story
Producing Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba’s Routes
Cross-Cultural Encounters in Music: A Story of Making Music Across Borders
String Quartet Readings of West African Music: Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba’s Routes and Fodé Lassana Diabaté’s Sunjata’s Time
West African Guitar Masterclass: Exploring the Guitar Styles of Habib Koité, Djelimady Tounkara, Ali Farka Touré, Boubacar Traoré and Sekouba Bambino
Percussion Masterclass in West African Djembe and Dundun Music
Sufi Islam in West Africa Through Story and Song
Playing with Time: Developing Rhythmic Awareness
Black Atlantic Routes: Tracing the African Diaspora in Sound
Aural Skillz: Listening for Audio Production