The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has awarded the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts to Balla Kouyaté, balafon player, djeli, and Contemporary Improvisation faculty member.
Kouyaté and the other 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellows will be honored at two public events in Washington, D.C. in September.
Balla Kouyaté’s lineage goes back more than 800 years to Balla Faséké, the first of an unbroken line of djelis in the Kouyaté clan. The word “djeli” derives from the Mandinka language, meaning 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. He leads the West African Ensemble in NEC's Contemporary Improvisation department.