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El Hadj Djeli Sory Kouyate

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Possibly the world's greatest balafon player, El Hadj Djely Sory Kouyate didn't record his first album, Anthologie du Balafon Mandigue, Vol. 1, until he had reached his 73rd birthday. Despite his age, the album showcased his virtuosic playing and imaginative melodies. Accompanied by Touma Moudo Kouyate (second balafon), Ahmadou Camara (bolon), Samba Woury Barry (sokko), Sadio Diallo (buru), and Makan Camara (tunni), Kouyate cast his intertwining melodic spell. According to the liner notes of his debut album, "some say that in human memory no one has known such virtuosity on balafon in the Mande homeland."

Descended from Bala Fasseke Kouyate, djeli (court musician) in the court of Sundiate, the 12th century founder of the Empire of Mali, Kouyate hails from a very influential musical family. Two of his brothers served as djelis in the court of King Nalotaye in Kantande.

Although he received his first balafon at the age of 12, Kouyate was little known outside of Guinea until joining the National Instrumental Ensemble in 1961. While touring in the United States, Kouyate and other members met vocalist and political activist Harry Belafonte. Inspired by the group's music, Belafonte formed the Djoliba Ballet and invited Kouyate to become involved. Accepting the invitation, Kouyate remained with the ballet company for nearly a decade.

In 1981, Kouyate became director of the National Choral and Instrumental Ensemble in Guinea. Seven years later, he garnered critical acclaim for his playing in the Broadway production, Africa Oye.

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Years Active:

'60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s