In February, one of Mali’s most widely recognized musicians made headlines when his iconic and one-of-a-kind stringed kora instrument was found destroyed after being transported from New York to Paris. The musician, Ballaké Sissoko, accused the American Transportation Security Administration (TSA) of taking apart the instrument, which the TSA has denied. The incident has focused attention on Sissoko, his traditional instrument, and his music.
The kora is a twenty-one-string instrument played through plucking. Sissoko explained to NPR that the strings hold a symbolic message: seven represent the past, seven the present, and seven the future. Sissoko has added an extra string in honor of the craftsmen who made his kora, and adapted his instrument slightly to play chromatic scales and harmonize better with the other two indigenous African instruments played by his fellow members of the 3MA trio: Driss El Maloumi plays the eleven-string oud, and Rajery plays the eighteen-string valiha.
3MA stands for Mali, Maroc (or Morocco), and Madagascar, the home countries of the three musicians: Sissoko is from Mali, El Maloumi is from Morocco, and Rajery is from Madagascar. They have brought together three instruments, their respective cultures, and their unique musical traditions to make music that transcends the boundaries and presents a new image of Africa.