Fodé Lassana Diabaté, better known as Lassana Diabaté, is without doubt one of Africa’s most brilliant and creative contemporary musicians. He is the greatest virtuoso on the Mande balafón (22-key xylophone), one of West Africa’s oldest instruments. During Lassana’s visit to Cape Breton in the spring of 2019, he recorded his first solo album: the world’s first balafón-only full-length album.
On this album, Lassana is accompanied on balafón by Illya Kierkosz, who prefers to describe himself as a vocalist, although he is also a multi-instrumentalist trained as a fiddler, pianist, and drummer. Born in 1997 in Toronto, ON, Illya met Lassana in 2014, on Lassana’s first visit to Cape Breton. Illya began taking lessons on balafón from Lassana and it wasn’t long before his musical abilities enabled him to participate in jam sessions. The two have played together in concerts in Cape Breton and Halifax since 2017; these opportunities have had a powerful impact on Illya, who says, “One of the things that I took from my performances with Lassana was how well we were able to communicate even though I spoke French poorly and he spoke English poorly… We were talking through the action of what we were doing; we were talking through the music we were making, and that, I think, was pretty powerful for me.” In 2019, Lassana invited Illya to accompany him on balafón when recording his balafón-only pieces for the Bala album. “I was honoured and grateful for my opportunity to play with Lassana and to experience a different culture of music from the one that I’m so used to every day,” says Illya. “Lassana was very generous and very gracious with his time and experience and I was lucky to be the recipient of that.”
Production Advisor - Dr. Lucy Durán, of the University of London/School of Oriental and African Studies, served as advisor on the production of Bala. Ethnomusicologist, Record producer and radio presenter Dr. Durán had a leading role in the production of “Ladilikan,” Lassana’s award-winning album produced in collaboration with the Kronos Quartet.
Assistant Producer - East Coast musician Mary Beth Carty, Assistant Producer on Bala, organized the Nova Scotian tour for Lassana that surrounded the recording of his album in 2019, funded by the Province of Nova Scotia through African Nova Scotian Affairs division of the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage. Mary Beth lent her bilingual talents to translating for Lassana at recording sessions and reports that, between jamming, sharing meals, and studio time, she is pleased that they have formed a lifelong friendship.
For an in-depth look at the creative collaborations of Lassana Diabaté, click here.