By Danielle Hall and Tim Oakes
Along the neck of a curious looking instrument, Yacouba Sissoka slides braided cow skin rings while plucking a sea of 21 translucent strings; 10 with his right forefinger, and 11 with his left forefinger. The haphazard yet calming melody that the instrument projects while he tunes the kora, falls somewhere between a guitar, a harp and a harpsichord.
The “LIVE from SAC” program that began last month on October 15 at the Southampton Arts Center continued this week on Saturday with a concert featuring the Malian influence of Natsu Camara and Yacouba Sissoko. One hundred and forty five people from the Southampton area listened to the traditional notes from the Malian instrument, the kora, supported by local jazz band LUMA.
“I think its important to experience multicultural entertainment and art forms no matter where you are. It’s nice to have that right at your doorstep,” Amy Kirwin, Director of Programs at Southampton Arts Center, said.
The music series is a part of The Jam Session’s initiative to bring diverse, live music to local venues on Long Island. All of the music is under the jazz umbrella but include stylistically different sounds from month to month. This concert was an Afro funk world beat style, while the first concert was from the Afro Cuban jazz tradition, Claes Brondal from The Jam Session, said.
“Any time you turn on the radio, 90% of the stuff you hear is very homogenous, and there’s a world of music out there,” Brondal said. “I think that if you expose people to the diversity of music you make more diverse people and you make a better society.”
The kora is a traditional instrument from Mali that looks and sounds similar to a harp. The instrument is made of a gourd base covered in taught cow skin and 21 cords made of fishing line strung from the base to a wooden neck. Generations of griot families who are storytellers and peacemakers, or Dialy, played the instrument for nobles and kings. It wasn’t until recent generations that the music of the kora expanded to the rest of the world, Yacouba said.
“At first I thought it was a piano, and then I thought it was a harp, and then I thought it had castanets because it seemed to have everything, every element in it,” Laura Lyons, an attendee of the concert, said.
The griot teach the complicated skills required to play the 21 string instrument from one generation to the next. Yacouba attributes his path to play kora to destiny and a desire to follow his grandfather’s footsteps.
“My grandfather, he told my mommy that ‘you know what, he’s gonna become a kora player and I believe he’s gonna be the one to take my seat and replace me’ and I did.”
On Saturday, Yacouba, Camara, and LUMA met briefly before the concert to practice, but the majority of jazz music relies on improvisation.
“This is about communication, we’re gonna be feeding off of each other, improve is creating in the moment and that’s a big element of the whole concept of jazz as well, the improve and the creation of taking the music and expanding it with the souls of the people,” Daniel Lauter, saxophonist of LUMA, said.
The next LIVE from Southampton Arts Center event will feature New Orleans jazz music throughout time on December 17. The series will continue through June.