The kora, is a 21-string lute-bridge-harp used extensively in West Africa. Youssoupha Sidibe plays it extremely well and sings along in his native tongue. It’s meditating and beautiful and transporting. GRAMMY Award-nominated album entitled, “Youth” (2007) was recorded in collaboration with Matisyahu and went Gold.
Youssoupha’s weekend kick-off performance on Friday, August 4th, during “Return of the Star Tribes: Devotion to the Sky” sacred ceremonial retreat, encapsulated the Center For Spiritual Living Greater Las Vegas with love. It created a safe zone; a place where all could feel welcome to drop their guards and open their self to the growth opportunities just waiting to be discovered. He shared himself, his culture, and beliefs on stage: ”‘Akassa’, means amazing in my native language Wolof, from Senegal. Cheikh Amadu Bamba was a Sufi master, the original creator of our brotherhood. Within the Mouride community there are the Moor and the Baye Fall. I am a Baye Fall and I have dreadlocks, but I am not a Rhasta. I am a Muslim Sufi and we have a big community back home and we do Sufi chantings every Thursday night for about 4 hours in a circle of singing with call and answer and the only thing we sing is “La e La Ha e La La”. This means, God is the Highest Power. So, if you chant the name of God over and over and over is how you build up a connection with God and that’s how you emanate all the power you need to receive all the blessings that you need, so it’s like a mantra, constant repeat, to bring God into the present. So I ask you to open your heart and be open to what I am sharing with you and try to take it in, in a way that is going to flow within you, because it is going to help all of us together.”
He taught us how to chant-sing: The way we sing. When you sing, sometimes you can hear a note and you might try to go up to catch it and that is when you lose it. Everybody has a voice. Think about the way you talk, like the tempo of your voice, all I need to do is just raise it up. No need to force anything. The way you talk, it’s right there…just raise up the volume and we are there.
I was able to spend time throughout the weekend with Youssoupha. He is a calming being, the epitome of super chill. He sat with me on Saturday to answer some questions.
Youssoupha Sidibe: My name is Youssoupha Sidibe. I am from Senegal, West Africa and I am a musician; kora player, an African harp with 21 strings.
Liz Lauer, Chicago Music Magazine: How did you get into the music? What attracted you?
Youssoupha: I will say, when I was growing up, I used to really love the sound of music and old instruments. Back in Senegal, we have a lot of music around us. Music is everywhere, it is a part of our daily lives. As young kids, we have certain kinds of Holidays that we would make our own drum that we would play. The Holiday consists of going with your group of friends, play the drum and go house by house, just like Halloween here, people would give you stuff, you know gifts or food. The music is part of it. Our soccer teams, the fans, there is always music. Music is very deep rooted, so for someone back there that doesn’t become a musician is pretty rare. I can say that everyone there plays. It’s just part of our life, you know.
Liz: So it is a part of your life and obviously there’s a tremendous spiritual connection and that’s the culture. What is it? Because it is you as well…
Youssoupha: Yeah, I am a part of a Sufi community and I use the instrument by itself as a traditional instrument, but I take it and play it my way which is my own music writings and composition and stuff. In Senegal, the spirituality is very present because that is how the people have hope every day of surviving their daily lives. Africa, through the history and what is happening now, people really need that spirituality to really hang onto something. People need something to be sustainable and to survive. So that is where it comes in because if you are missing something, you are always like ‘well tomorrow is going to be better’. Inshallah, God willing, that means it’s like the hope that is where the spirit comes to hold the people together, so that is where it comes from.
Liz: So there’s a presence about you, a sharing, teaching presence…Is the Sufi community supportive of you sharing?
Youssoupha: Yes, of course, because it is a part of who we are as Africans in general, and the Senegalese. I am Senegalese. Our national saying, the anthem is Tiranga, which means hospitality. My culture is hospitality. If you go to Senegal, people will open their house, give you their bed, even if they have one bed, share their food, even if there is not enough, they give you, treat you, even if at some time you get so tired of it. They literally are going to put the food in your mouth. They love you. They want you there. They are just welcoming. Everybody wants to have a connection with you. You could walk the street and all the kids are like ‘hey eh yeah yeah’, because you are a stranger and people love you and give you and you’d be amazed! That’s how it is. It is different than most countries. The sharing part of it is just natural. I just happen to be here and happen to be a musician and doing what I am doing and I have been doing it here for 20 years just what I am doing now, always going to places.
Liz: Does it become depleting?
Youssoupha: Yeah, of course. Every work…but the magic of it. You see me when I play and people enjoy and people love and people participate, so it gives me more courage. But it is not that I am being only sustainable, I have my whole life and my whole family and my whole things that I run. I have to work on my music every single day. I am my own manager. I like taking care of my business.
Liz: It seems like you are seeing more success. You have a very important role in the Oregon Eclipse Festival 2017.
Youssoupha: YAH! Right now things are happening. I even signed a record deal. I’m in a vortex where things are opening up so I have to find myself really, put together to be able to tap into it and let it go. Doing this for 20 years, I sacrificed everything for this…everything.
**Youssoupha has the tremendous honor of playing the first song after the total eclipse on August 21st, 2017 at The Oregon Eclipse Festival, hosted by Symbiosis Gathering at Big Summit Prairie, OR.**
Liz: What is this (referring to the necklace)?
Youssoupha: This (the picture) is my spiritual master. And, this is the necklace from my tribe. His grandfather is the one who created our brotherhood, the Mouride brotherhood. It’s a very fascinating history.
Liz: Why do you believe the Oregon Eclipse is such a huge thing?
Youssoupha: The Oregon Eclipse is going to be huge because the sun and moon come together and it’s a time for our people to put a lot into that; their life, their needs. Everything is going to be in that moment. People are going to put their intention in that and hold that. Because people are really depressed right now, from everything. So there is clarity in the eclipse. Let it go. All the goodness needs to be shared. Our ancestors left us this mess, there is no innocence. Everyone is separated. The eclipse brings out very important things. I have played the Beloved Festival for 9 years, every single year I play. They book me on spot and I play at 3 in the morning. Every year I just go there in the cold, and everyone hears it. The next morning people come to me – I am in the festival, I hang out. People tell me “Man that was so beautiful, it brings tears to my eyes”. I am just blown away by what they hear, because I can’t hear that, I just hear what I am doing. I can’t hear what the people hear because the vibration goes and people receive it in a way that is different. Everybody is in their own state of mind and going through whatever they are going through during the moment and needing whatever they are needing in the moment and it comes to them in a different way. So that, to me, is the next level of music. Because music is so powerful, it needs to get to the level where you hear the music and it changes your life. Like BOOM, right there and you can just cry. That is what I try to bring. When you put the pray in the music, it becomes something. It is just like when you make the powerful drink and you put all the extract. Anybody who drinks it, they can feel it right away. So, that is the same thing. So, that is the type of music I want to create. And, that is what I have been trying to do all these years. I am at the point where I can see it happening because people are ready for it, people are really, like I said, depressed and longing for something to just change something. Because you can hear music everywhere, right?! But sometimes it’s not the right frequency, you can just hear this is a good song, ‘la-lala-la-la’, but I am talking about that stays in you, stays in your heart, and it happens in festivals, you know, and that is the only experience that keeps me doing it, but it’s the people that come back – when people come back and tell me I have changed their life, I am telling you, people will be crying and I realize it is the instrument. It’s an ancient instrument and is the harp of David, it’s the one mentioned in bible. The Kora. The only instrument is the Kora. It is sacred. The sound is sacred.
Liz: It is such an interesting looking and sounding instrument. How did you get to play it?
Youssoupha: I felt it growing up, through the sound. I went to college and learned the different instruments and was learning how to write music. At the school, there was a Department of African Traditional Instruments. The door, the sign, over time, I passed it until one day I opened the door, and I was like “oh!’. The kora, the drums, the everything. The Director was looking at me, and I was like ‘how do you learn these things’? And he asked me ‘Which one do you want to learn’ and I said ‘that one’ and he was like ‘that is the most difficult one to learn, the kora’. And I was like…’yah’! In my neighborhood, my friend was the king of the kora, he lives in my neighborhood. He was the most famous traditional kora musician…and he lived in my neighborhood. And, we used to hang out. After that, I started learning over there and I became part of their family. Just hang out, and do things, and what not, and keep on learning and improving. That is basically how I learned the instrument. I loved it.
If you were lucky enough to grab a ticket to the SOULED OUT Oregon Eclipse Festival happening this weekend, you will have no choice but to hear the awe-fully inspiring sounds of Youssoupha Sidibe and his kora after the eclipse happening on August 21st, 2017, between 10:15am and 10:21am PT on the Silk Road stage.
Youssoupha’s positioning in the Oregon Eclipse Festival is as profound as it is helpful to the world.