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July 18, 2009

Foday Musa Suso - Hand Power

So before I get too caried away into the inexorable void of banjoism, I thought it appropriate to revisit the banjo's roots. Though mostly played by white people nowadays, the banjo was originally a 'black' instrument. It evolved in the south of the US from combining the fingerboard of the guitar with the skin/gourd structure of the African ngoni. African music also heavily influenced the strongly rhythmic, cyclical and 'odd' nature of banjo-music. The ngoni is also related to (and often accompanies) the kora, a 19-to-24-stringed gourd-lute-harp, which will be featured in several of my next posts. Incidentally, it's kinda the hip thing for banjo-players now to go and retrace their roots and play with African musicians. Look up Béla Fleck's new album and Jayme Stone with Mansa Sissoko to hear some. If you downloaded the Taj Mahal & Toumani Diabate album that I posted ages ago, then you know already how dreamlike and incredible the kora sounds, given a suitably virtuosic player. If you haven't heard it yet, go listen!

Though Foday Musa Suso is renowned as a master Kora-ploayer, this album isn't strictly a kora album. Inbetween make-your-brain-explode flurries of string-plucking and cascades of liquid arpeggios there is singing, percussion, and even some traditional Gambian electric guitar (har har). But it's all so solid and natural, and when the rhythms overlap 2 and 3 times over it makes me wet as a baby and, well, stop reading just listen.

Biography by Jason Ankeny

Griot, composer, and kora master Foday Musa Suso loomed large over the worldbeat landscape both before and after the Graceland groundswell. The solo records of this relentlessly innovative performer and tireless ambassador of African culture remained rooted in the meditative folk traditions of his native Gambia, but he also collaborated with similarly omnivorous Western musicians including Bill Laswell, Herbie Hancock, and Philip Glass to fuse West African music with classical minimalism, free jazz, and avant funk. Born in 1950 into a family of Mandingo griots -- musicians, historians, and oral storytellers -- dating back about a thousand years, Suso spent his formative years on a peanut farm, studying the kora (the harplike 21-string instrument that dominates West African music) at the feet of his father, Saikou Suso. At the age of ten he was sent to a nearby village to continue his education under the tutelage of an uncle. When Suso was 18, a group of Western tourists funded his airfare to Sweden, and in exchange he spent six months playing solo in bars and restaurants throughout the Scandinavian region. While in Stockholm he befriended a French accordionist, and together they performed across Europe for the next five years, with Suso finally returning to Africa in 1974 to teach kora at the University of Ghana. While at the university Suso met Chicago-based percussionist Adam Rudolph, and in mid-1977 he relocated to the Windy City, forming the world fusion outfit Mandingo Griot Society with Rudolph, percussionist Hamid Drake, and bassist Joe Thomas. The group's first performance at the Daley Center in downtown Chicago earned significant media exposure and landed Suso a job with the Illinois Arts Council teaching African culture in area schools. Following just their second gig, the Mandingo Griot Society signed with the local Flying Fish label, in 1978 recording their self-titled debut LP with the great Don Cherry on trumpet. A follow-up, Mighty Rhythm, appeared in 1981, but after Rudolph relocated to Los Angeles and Drake began focusing his energies almost exclusively on his burgeoning collaboration with saxophonist Fred Anderson, the unit effectively dissolved, and Suso returned to his solo career. In 1983 he contacted Laswell, inspired by the producer's work on Hancock's groundbreaking Future Shock album, and Laswell invited Suso to contribute to Hancock's follow-up, Sound-System. The legendary keyboardist was so pleased with the end result that he invited Suso to join his band for a Japanese tour that yielded the live LP Village Life. Suso signed to the Celluloid label to release his 1984 solo debut, Watto Sitta, recorded with the core Mandingo Griot Society lineup with contributions from Hancock and djembe master Manu Washington. After he and Hancock jointly headlined a 1986 live record entitled Jazz Africa, Suso returned to West Africa for a month in the company of composer Philip Glass, then preparing his score for filmmaker Godfrey Reggio's Powaqqatsi, and upon coming back to the U.S. they agreed to collaborate, ultimately scoring Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater's 1989 production of The Screens, Jean Genet's stage drama about Algeria's struggle for independence from France. Glass' influence profoundly affected the minimalist aesthetic dominant on Suso's 1990 LP, Dreamtime. Glass also introduced Suso to Kronos Quartet violinist David Harrington, and in 1992 he played kora on the avant classical group's Pieces of Africa. In 1995 the original Mandingo Griot Society lineup reunited to perform at the African Festival of the Arts, and the following year Suso's contributions to the Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa and Beyond collection earned widespread attention from the mainstream media. In the years to follow he collaborated with jazz legends Pharoah Sanders and Jack DeJohnette, and in June 2004 he and Glass traveled to Athens, Greece, to perform Orion, a new piece commissioned in honor of the Summer Olympic Games.

Longer Biography:
Foday Musa Suso is an internationally recognised Kora playing Mandingo griot who was born in 1950 in the Gambian village of Sarre Hamadi, a village in the Wuli District, in the Upper River Region. He is a virtuoso master kora performer and composer from a hereditary lineage of other Jalis.

After spending his childhood in Banjul, the capital, he was sent to Pasamasi Village where he was taught by Saikou Suso, his uncle, when he was nine years old. He would sometimes be under the tutelage of another of his uncles Falimada Suso. After 7 years of rigorous formal training he became an accomplished player of the kora, balaphone (African xylophone) and the tama. Such an apprenticeship is a standard feature of learning music in Manding because it is considered important for achieving proper discipline and concentration. Unlike most musicians in Manding society, Suso's talents are shared among many instruments. When he had finished his training he had now put to memory past tribal conflicts, family lineages, the epic oral histories of the Manding people and its cultural heroes from the great Sujatta onwards.

Foday Musa Suso made trips to a number of European, Asian and African countries teaching, and performing, as well as learning from others. He spent two years at the Institute of African Studies, University of Legon, Ghana, as a resident instructor of the Kora.

In 1977, Suso flew to Chicago in the US where he began his recording career as well as forming a group, Mandingo Griot Society, with the percussionist Adam Rudolph. The group have appeared at New York's Carnegie Hall and Central Park Summerstage, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Frankfurt International Jazz Festival in Germany and at the Cultural Center in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Since then, he has taught and recorded with many well known jazz artists, including the trumpeter Don Cherry, and Herbie Hancock, with whom he recorded the album, Village Life, while on their tour of Japan. The group opened new ground in what is known as World Music in numerous other collaborations, such as with Ginger Baker using Suso's skillful and heavenly playing of the West African lute in a number of pieces.

After the band broke up they Suso re-united with its members Rudolph and Hamid Drake in 1984 to create the album Watto Sitta. The album was produced by Bill Laswell, and was a milestone of modern African music, skillfully and effortlessly merging Suso's cutting-edge kora playing with an effortless equilibrium of natural and synthesised tunes.

Since the early 80's his various collaborations and work has included working with Pharoah Sanders, Philip Glass and the Kronos Quartet an ensemble who commissioned him to compose five works. They collaborated at venues ranging from New York's Lincoln Center and California's Institute of the Arts to the Staatsoper Opera House in Vienna, Austria and the Royal Festival Hall in London In traditional, contemporary, minimalist, classical and avant-garde settings he's cast the kora in both lead and supporting roles where its emotive, shimmering sound finds ever new levels of beauty and boldness.

Career High Points:
Foday has also performed on several film soundtracks including Roots, Powaqqatsi, and Mountain of the Moon. Other high-lights of his career include working as a performer and consultant for a Japanese documentary film on African music and the book/CD, Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa and Beyond.

Official Website:

Foday Musa Suso - Hand Power

Year: 1984
Label: Flying Fish

This is a solo album of traditional Gambian acoustic music.

1. Sir Dawda Jawara
2. Tesito
3. Fatoto Camara Kunda
4. Julla Fasso
5. Tramakang
6. Ye Goni

and how many hands can one man have?
mp3 >192kbps vbr | w/ cover | 71mb

and don't miss his duets with jazz drummer Jack de Johnette at Musical Heritage/Babeblogue and with Herbie Hancock at Guitar & the Wind and Nothing is v2.0 and with Pharaoh Sanders & Eberhard Weber at Pathway to Unknown Worlds and with trumpeter Don Cherry at Babelblogue

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