PUTNEY — Next Stage Arts presents a concert with Malian balafon player and singer Balla Kouyaté and American cellist, singer, and composer Mike Block, on Sunday at 4 p.m. Composer, kora player, percussionist and vocalist John Hughes, of Brattleboro, opens.
Balla Kouyaté and Mike Block have been collaborating for over a decade, bonding over their shared interest in music from across the world, and their commitment to innovating on their instruments. Balla Kouyate, a balafon player and singer coming out of the Djeli tradition of Mali, was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA. Mike Block is an American cellist, singer and composer, and a Grammy Award-winning musician with the Silk Road Ensemble originally trained in Western Classical music.
“Two world-class masters from different continents unite to bring together different musical traditions with Mike and Balla,” said Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage Arts. “Balla was named a World Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts and is the heritage keeper of his region’s heritage instrument, the balafon. Mike Block, a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble, is known in numerous musical circles as a master at the cello. Next Stage is over the moon about presenting these two virtuosic musicians.”
To say that Balla Kouyaté was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Kouyaté Faséké, the first of an unbroken line of djelis in the Kouyaté clan. Djelis are the oral historians, musicians, and performers who keep alive and celebrate the history of the Mandé people of Mali, Guinea, and other West African countries. Kouyaté explains that the word “Djeli” derives from his Mandinka language, “It means blood and speaks to the central role we play in our society.” One must be born into it. The Kouyaté family is regarded as the original praise-singers of the Malinké people, one of the ethnic groups found across much of West Africa.
Mike Block is a pioneering cello player, singer, composer and educator, hailed by Yo-Yo Ma as the “ideal musician of the 21st-Century.” Block is a member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble (SRE), having joined in 2005 while a student at The Juilliard School. Touring extensively throughout the world with SRE, he has been featured as cello and vocal soloist, contributed arrangements and compositions, and earned a Grammy Award in 2017 for their album, “Sing Me Home.”
John Hughes is an internationally renowned composer, kora player, percussionist and vocalist whose style crosses myriad cultural boundaries and fuses disparate influences. Playing ancient traditional instruments not often heard in the United States, many of which he builds himself, Hughes takes his audience on an intimate musical tour of universal expressions of joy and hope that soothe and uplift the spirit. Whether playing elegant and stately pieces from the classical repertoire of the Jeli’s (Griot’s) of West Africa or original compositions, Hughes’ kora playing has an uncommon beauty that is, at once, exquisitely detailed and bold. His signature pieces are rhythmically nuanced and laced with syncopations that cascade off the strings into whirlpools of mesmerizing sound.
Also a sculptor, dancer, instrument builder and educator, Hughes holds a B.F.A. from the Tyler School of Art of Temple University and the West Surrey College of Art and Design in Farnham, England and an M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.
Next Stage is at 15 Kimball Hill in downtown Putney. Tickets are $20 in advance and $24 at the door. Advance tickets are available at nextstagearts.org.