Balla Kouyaté, Mike Block Band to play on Bandwagon Summer Stage

PUTNEY — The Next Stage Bandwagon Summer Series presents the Balla Kouyaté & Mike Block Band on Saturday, Sept. 9, at 5 p.m., at Cooper Field, 41 Sand Hill Rd.

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. Kouyaté, a balafon player and singer coming out of the Djeli tradition of Mali, was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA. Block is an American cellist/singer/composer originally trained in Western Classical music.

They have teamed up with friends from America and West Africa to create a fusion of musical styles in a six-piece band that features Sekou Dembele (djembe/vocals), Idrissa Kone (talking drum/calabash/percussion/vocals), Luke Okerlund (electric guitar) and Mike Rivard (bass/sintir).

"African vibes synthesized with Western traditions is at the root of this music - creating a sound that's wildly original and danceable," says Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage Arts, in a news release. "Balla Kouyaté is a World Heritage Fellow named by The National Endowment for the Arts. Mike and Balla both play with Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble. The musicians they're bringing with them are world-class talent. It's going to be an exciting day of music."

To say that 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."

Block is a pioneering cello player, singer, composer, and educator, (1)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 along with the ensemble, 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. (2)With The Block Strap, Mike was the first standing cellist to perform at Carnegie Hall. 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.

Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the gate, with children under 12 admitted free. Next Stage will provide a cash bar. Advance tickets are available at For information, call 802-387-0102.

This The Arts item was submitted to The Commons.

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