Mansa Sissoko is one of the new generation of singer-songwriters from Mali, West Africa. A griot by birth, Mansa weaves his music around the sound of traditional instruments and lyrics which encourage people in their day-to-day life. He is unique in that he sings and accompanies himself on the kora, a 21-stringed harp.
"Life," says Mansa Sissoko, "is a good thing." He laughs and, after a serious pause, says, "I know this because of who I am, because of the people who I am. I am griot, like my father and mother were. We griots are a storytelling and musical tradition passed down through family lines. This has been my whole life. When I was a kid I grew up hanging out at marriages with my mother who sang for marriages and baptisms and especially for other women. My father was a speaking griot, telling and reminding people of their family histories, their roles and responsibilities in society. I've simply followed the same path."
Mansa ponders for a minute and explains further, "My family comes from a special place called Kita in Mali. We are the Malinké people. We are cultivators of the soil. We are the root of so much of the traditional music coming out of Mali. We are the root of blues. Of jazz. Of so much more music in the world. We are a healthy root, alive and well. And because I am griot, it is my job to sing about and for us." He breaks out in laughter, "You too. All people. All of us!"
Mansa believes that we all are an equal part of nature. "I feel good in nature," says Mansa, "because nature is the source of our wisdom. Take fishing for example. Because a fisherman is a patient person, something learned from the fish! And that is important because with patience you can do all things that you want. You can listen to a friend and understand. If you wish to do something, with patience it can be done. I am 100 percent sure. Nature nourishes music and music nourishes the spirit."
Mansa raises his arms and widens his eyes in emphasis, "Just think of the farmers, all of us as children Voila! one learns life through nature and music. We Malinké believe that music teaches us how to live. If someone dies, there are songs which help people and their families through this difficult time. Music encourages: those who turn the soil, women who work in their gardens, people who work, even for kids." And relaxing and laughing, he adds, "Really, I am a very positive guy!"
For the past fifteen years Mansa has been performing across Mali in villages and major centers like Tombuktou, Segou, and Bamako, including a recent engagement at the prestigious French Cultural Centre. He has performed on national television, for ambassadors from around the world, and always for friends who visit at his house. For five years he played with one of the Malian greats, Habib Koité, and he has also recorded and performed with Tiken Jah Fakoly, one of West Africa's most popular new artists. He has previously been invited to play in Senegal, Burkina Faso, France, and Canada, and organized and performed in the national kora festival.
In 2004 he had highly successful solo tours both in France and Canada during the busy summer festival season. Mansa is the subject of a documentary film on the importance of music in development by Canadian filmmaker Bay Weyman.
Courtesy Calabash Music