By Rachel Bosworth
West African music is an ethnically diverse genre that allows musicians of all backgrounds to create a unique sound that can be at once traditional and modern. The landlocked nation of Mali, for instance, has been influenced by the art of ancient civilizations, melding the sounds of classic African instruments with new age music. While not widespread on the East End, familiarity is found in the influences of soul, funk, and R&B tunes.
Malian musician Yacouba Sissoko is a renowned kora player; a master of the 21-string harp-like instrument that bears a strong resemblance to a guitar. Born to a well-known djely family, which are known as musical storytellers in West African nations, his venture into the world of music was a birthright. As highly respected members within their communities, djelys are the authority on community history, and the ability to become one is something that is inherited. From the young age of nine, Mr. Sissoko began learning to play the kora and the oral traditions of his home with lessons passed on for generations.
With a style that is both traditional and modern, Mr. Sissoko plays an eclectic mix of African songs, jazz, Latin, and R&B. Throughout his career as a musician, he has joined contemporary artists on tour and in the studio, lending his talents to musicians of varying styles. It is through these same journeys that he met drummer and musical director Claes Brondal.
“I first met Yacouba in Central Park a few years ago during a lantern festival,” Mr. Brondal recalled. “His music flowed throughout the park with harp like qualities, but much more rhythmic. He is as wonderful as his music and he has become a good friend.”
As co-founder of the non-profit organization, The Jam Session, Mr. Brondal hosts a variety of performances in the Hamptons as part of the organization’s mission of brining live music and music education to the local community. Originally from Denmark, Mr. Brondal resides and teaches private lessons in the village of Sag Harbor. His versatility in style has allowed him to perform in a number of live and recorded sessions with popular musicians of all genres, jazz being one of the most prominent.
Jazz music is deeply rooted in The Jam Session’s mission, and serves as the foundation for the musical performances the organization puts on in the Hamptons. Audience members and musicians alike are invited to join, bringing different styles and influences together in an eclectic mix of music and culture. Through weekly jam sessions and collaborations with local organizations, venues, and media outlets, The Jam Session aims to promote these live performances and artistic opportunities within the community.
Performing with the famed kora player is described by Mr. Brondal as a spiritual experience, and one the local community will have the opportunity to enjoy when they take the stage at the Southampton Arts Center this month as part of the “LIVE from SAC” concert series. In the true spirit of a jam session, the pair will be joined by members of the world funk band, LUMA, which stands for Life, Unity, Music, Amplified. With saxophonist Dan Lauter, bassist Jeff Marshall, and vocalist Natu Camara performing, a blend of varying backgrounds and styles united in music will offer East Enders a different cultural experience.
As another West African native having grown up in Guinea, Ms. Camara brings her own unique story to this mixed group of performers. She has been a strong advocate for female musicians in a country where human rights and equality has been an on-going issue for more than five decades. Inspired by her heritage, Ms. Camara’s style is influenced by African dance, blues, soul, and rock and roll. Her history and presence is the perfect complement to this feature in the concert series.
Hoping to shine some light on the world of music with some of the finest musicians in the local and global community, Mr. Brondal is bringing together some of his fellow LUMA bandmates with these international stars in an effort to not only curate a unique concert experience, but educate the public in what is ultimately a universal language.
“I believe that diversity in communities foster tolerance and empathy, and that includes food, events, churches, and music,” said Mr. Brondal. “We have to come together and experience these cultural differences together as a society. Music is historically a very integral part of socializing, as well as being a part of the social fabric of religious ceremonies, celebrations, etc.”
As The Jam Session has featured musicians over the past seven years that are stylistically diverse, the Southampton Arts Center is venue that presents a new format for the organization. “This concert series is structured, and not the improvised playground The Jam Session is known for,” Mr. Brondal explained. “Southampton Arts Center is important in this equation as they have come to symbolize culture and community in The Hamptons.”
Join The Jam Session for The Music of Mali with Yacouba Sissoko and LUMA on Saturday, November 12 at 7 p.m. at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton. With songs, grooves, melodies, and storytelling appealing to old and young audience members. For more information, visit southamptonartscenter.org.