Cri de Kora

This year’s FolkFest is one for the ages

“Band, we’re ready for sound check!”

At the announcement, Diali Cissokho (pronounced “Djelly See-so-ko), sporting a colorful tunic in contrast to the black-clad production crew, strides down an embankment to the “stage” with its spectacular backdrop of horses, a majestic tiger and 54 other elaborately hand-carved and painted creatures of The Rotary Club of Greensboro Carousel that opened last month at Greensboro Science Center. Cissokho, a native of Senegal who makes Pittsboro his home, hoists a kora, an instrument made from hollowed-out calabash (bottle gourd), and positions it so the strings on its unusually long neck are facing him. Meanwhile the members of his band Kaira Ba, who look like any other dudes you might see in a Southern jam band, take up their own instruments.

“They’re all N.C.-born and-bred,” says Amy Grossmann, director of the NC FolkFest. She goes on to explain that all of the musical acts for this year’s festival have some connection to Old North State. With Covid-19, out-of-state bands stayed put and FolkFest organizers decided to go virtual. But, adds volunteer and board member Denny Kelly, “It builds community.”

From late July to mid-August, organizers filmed 10 bands in 10 different locations throughout the Triad: Rissi Palmer at Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum in Sedalia; Chatham County Line at the Old Mill of Guilford; Charlie Hunter at Center City Park. The Hamiltones, says Kelly, belted out heartfelt songs, pretending to engage a nonexistent audience in front of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Each two-hour segment will be introduced by a host delivering remarks about the filming location and streamed September 11, 12 and 13. Kelly suspects local music fans will gather for watch parties and Grossmann concurs: “A hundred years from now, people could be watching.”

After Greensboro Science Center Director Glenn Dobrogosz makes remarks to the camera extolling the carousel as the “crown jewel” of the center’s $14.5 million expansion, Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba take the mics again, and sweet, clear, harplike notes emanate from his kora, while he sings softly building to a crescendo, songs about learning, loss and racial unity, an artist’s cri de coeur — or cri de kora in this case. “We all go in the same direction,” he says, while the carousel whirs around, its mirrored panels flickering in one continuous wheel of art, music, light and life. Info: This year’s folkfest will be available on several channels, including GTN, YouTube and For information please visit

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