Jubilation Fellow Kilissa Cissoko

Kilissa Cissoko

Buffalo NY
Fellowship: 2008 / 2012

“People still have a fundamental and visceral need to come together around a common groove, to sing along with a song,” says Kilissa, guitarist and singer. She also plays piano, flute, saxophone, and percussion. Before becoming a teacher, she toured for years as part of a duo called The Jazzabels.

During the 1990’s, Kilissa directed the nonprofit organization Musicians United for Superior Education, bringing African, Afro-Latin and African-American drum and dance to inner city kids. She worked with dozens of schools and community centers, and thousands of students. Now a full-time music teacher (K-4), she believes that “creativity grows best when you cultivate it broadly. It takes a foundation of supportive conditions, motivating goals, and a steady pace. Teaching music to young children also feels like a good way to make a contribution that stands a chance of making the world a better place for the next generation.”

Her students are creative and inquiring music makers. Singing, dancing, and playing instruments flow from a foundation of ear-training and teamwork. Students also listen to a wide variety of music from around the world. “Musical creativity is a focal point of my teaching,” says Kilissa.

In a recent song-writing class, her students learned how to substitute words to make an original lyric. The template? Polly Put The Kettle On. “These sophisticated inner-city kids neither blinked an eye nor said a word of derision about it. They chanted and rapped that Mother Goose rhyme like it was a top 40 hit! They caught on lightening-quick. Some of them modified the rhythm by adding complex syncopation, some spun it into a melody, others added clapping, dance, and dramatic motions, a few of them tagged on a special ending and performed with flair and bravado. Seeing their delightful ideas unfold and shine through was the best part.”

Link: Jubilation Fellows 2012 retreat video

The Lost Tapes
Supersexy Girlfriend
 (The Jazzabels)
Cafe All Day 
(The Jazzabels)
Come Hell or High Harmonies 
(The Jazzabels)
Why Go To Work When You Can Play?

Musical Theater:
Airport Musical
Santa’s Cookie Craving
The Best on the Beach, an adaptation of The Sneeches,
 by Dr. Seuss

The hard work of music play, co-authored with Elisabeth Etopio; a chapter in The Development and Practical Application of Music Learning Theory, edited by Runfola & Taggart. Chicago: GIA Publications, c2005

Elementary General Music Curriculum (K-3), co-authored with Kathy Bethel, Monika Stankewicz, Mary Kay Atlas, Buffalo Public Schools 2011

Students who are overcoming great obstacles. When I am able to help ANY child “get it” and reveal his/her authentic inner-creativity — that really keeps me going.

Kilissa is Reading/Listening to:
Women musicians who performed with Frank Zappa — as research for a book. My favorite so far is Carol Kaye, a session bass player who played on hundreds of influential recordings including the Beach Boys Pet Sounds. She raises the bar for me as a musician, and inspires me to dig ever deeper.

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