Flautist and composer NICOLE MITCHELL formerly served as the first woman president of the AACM and has been a member since 1995. She was named “Chicagoan of the Year” by the Chicago Tribune in 2006, received the Alpert Award in the Arts in 2011, and received the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award in 2012. In addition, Nicole has been commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Jazz Festival, and others, and has been featured in outlets including NPR, Ebony, Downbeat, JazzIz, and Jazz Times. She is currently a professor of music at the University of California, Irvine, where she teaches in a new MA/PhD program called Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology. Her group Black Earth Ensemble is a musical celebration of the African American cultural legacy. As a woman-directed, co-ed, multi-generational group, BEE aims to reach a range of emotional spaces rarely expressed in a traditional jazz setting.
Malian kora player BALLAKÉ SISSOKO was born to a family of djéli, musician-storytellers of the Mandingo culture similar to griots. Although the son of a musician, his father did not want him to become a musician, so Ballaké is self-taught in the kora. After the death of his father, he joined the Mali Instrumental Ensemble when he was 13 years old. In his thirties, Ballaké began playing with another Malian kora player, Toumani Diabeté, and also created a group called Mandé Tobolo. After befriending cellist and bassist Vincent Segal at a jazz festival in Amiens, he and Vincent recorded the albums Chamber Music in 2009 and Music Night in 2015.