The Next Stage Bandwagon Summer Series presents Balla Kouyaté & Mike Block Band on Saturday, September 9 at 5:00 pm at Cooper Field, 41 Sand Hill Rd, in Putney, Vermont.
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/composer, and a Grammy Award-winning musician with the Silkroad Ensemble originally trained in Western Classical music. They have teamed up with friends from America and West Africa to create an exciting fusion of musical styles in a 6-piece band that features Sekou Dembele (djembe/vocals), Idrissa Kone (talking drum/calabash/percussion/vocals), Luke Okerlund (electric guitar) and Mike Rivard (bass/sintir).
To say that Balla Kouyaté was born into a musical family is an understatement. His family lineage goes back over 800 years to Balla 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. Balla 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. In 2001, the “Sosso bala” was declared a site of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. This powerful symbol of Mande culture is brought out once a year for ceremonial playing. Balla also regularly plays with world renowned West African musicians who are touring in the States. He often accompanies kora master Mamadou Diabaté, and in 2004 joined NEA National Heritage Fellow Sidiki Cond Kouyaté for a month-long residency at Carnegie Hall.
Mike Block is a pioneering cello player, singer, composer, and educator, hailed by Yo-Yo Ma as the “ideal musician of the 21st-Century”. Mike 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. As an innovator, Mike is among the first wave of cellists to adopt a strap in order to stand and move while playing. With The Block Strap, Mike was the first standing cellist to perform at Carnegie Hall. The NY Times characterized the performance as, “Breathless … Half dance, half dare.” As an educator, Mike is passionate about creativity and collaboration, and is the founding director of Silkroad’s Global Musician Workshop, and the Mike Block String Camp.
The Bandwagon Summer Series is a family-friendly outdoor cultural performance series running from early May through mid-October. More than 20 performances ranging from a diverse group of musical styles, circus arts, dance, and theater will take place at ballfields, farms, and parks throughout Windham County. Kids under 12 always get in for free, and a dedicated play area will be available at all shows. Refreshments are sold onsite, including Vermont Gelato and the return of the hugely popular Barr Hill cocktails. Bring a picnic and a blanket or fold-up chair to enjoy our shows.
This concert is funded in part by the New England States Touring program of the New England Foundation for the Arts, made possible with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts Regional Touring Program and the six New England state arts agencies.
Support for the Bandwagon Summer Series is provided by Brattleboro Reformer, Landmark College, Oak Meadow, Barr Hill, Vermont Public, Lawson’s Finest Liquids, M&T Bank, and Vermont Plank Flooring.
Tickets are $20 in advance / $25 at the gate / Children under 12 free. Next Stage will provide a cash bar. Advance tickets are available at nextstagearts.org. For information, call 802-387-0102 or visit nextstagearts.org.