Griot Abou Sylla, born in 1958 in Guinea, West Africa, hails from a family with a rich heritage as "Djeli" or "Griot." These families are renowned for their roles as oral historians, advisers, musicians, and singers. Abou's family, in particular, has a tradition of crafting the “balani”, a short-keyed wooden xylophone that plays a vital role in the traditional music of the ancient Mande Empire in West Africa.
At the age of 20, he joined Les Ballets Africains under the direction of Italo Zambo, considering this period as when he became a master of the balafon.
Abou toured with Les Ballets Africains for over a decade, contributing to showcasing over 50 talented African musicians on world stages.
In the late 1980s, Abou joined Les Mervilles de Guinee and toured internationally, participating in significant events such as the 100th Anniversary of Sabina Airlines in Belgium and the U.S.
Settling in the USA in 1995, Abou has performed, collaborated and recorded with numerous U.S.-based music and dance groups, including Kakande, Abdoulaye Diabate, and Akwaabe Ensemble. He taught at various universities, including Sarah Lawrence (NYC) and the University of Florida, Gainesville. In 1996, he co-founded the award-winning fusion group Feraba, blending West African rhythms with tap dance. Abou has been a prominent figure in teaching traditional Guinean music across the USA and abroad. His discography includes self-produced albums, instructional material, and contributions to collaborative works. Abou is a recipient of numerous awards, including the NYFA fellowship in music composition.
Being born into a Griot family in Guinea is a unique and culturally significant heritage. As a musician deeply immersed in this rich heritage, I embark on a journey through the resonant sounds of the balafon to bring the stories, history, and spirit of Guinea's Mande music to life. The balafon, a revered instrument in the Griot tradition, is not just a musical instrument but a vessel for storytelling and a conduit to connect with our ancestors.
As an artist, I take my role as a Griot seriously. I am a vessel through which the stories and emotions of my people are channeled. Each note played on the balafon is a syllable in a larger story, a connection to the Griot lineage that stretches back generations.
I hope to inspire a profound appreciation for this cultural treasure and an understanding of the vital role that Griots and their music play in preserving our collective memory. While I remain faithful to the traditional techniques and scales of Guinea's Mande music, I also seek to infuse my own creativity and innovation, breathing new life into this timeless tradition.
My performances are a bridge between the past and the present, honoring the legacy of our ancestors while inviting contemporary audiences to engage with the beauty and depth of Mande music. I envision a world where my concerts are not only celebrations of cultural diversity but also catalysts for a more inclusive, empathetic, and socially conscious society."