Artist Profiles: Foday Musa Suso

Foday Musa Suso
Foday Musa Suso

Foday Musa Suso is an internationally recognized musician and a Manding griot from the West African nation of Gambia. Griots are the oral historians and musicians of the Manding people, who live in several West African nations.

Griots are a living library for the community, providing history, entertainment, and wisdom while playing and singing their songs. The history of empires and kingdoms, tribal conflicts, cultural heroes, and family lineage are all part of a griot’s traditional repertoire.

Foday is a direct descendant of Jali Madi Wlen Suso, the griot who invented the kora over four centuries ago. In 1977, he moved to Chicago and became the first kora player to establish himself in the United States. He formed The Mandingo Griot Society with 3 American musicians, playing a fusion of traditional and jazz that is now known as “world music”. Since 1977, he has performed as a soloist and with other musicians throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America.

Interested in both traditional and cutting-edge music, he has also written many original compositions, toured and recorded with many prominent musicians. Foday Musa Suso’s collaboration with Herbie Hancock began in 1984, when Bill Laswell introduced them and they co-wrote a composition for the Los Angeles Olympics entitled ‘Junku’ (‘Let’s Do It’). This song was included on the official Olympic album and on Herbie’s ‘Sound System‘ album. Herbie then invited Foday to join his band for a tour of the United States and Japan, where they co-wrote and recorded a duet album entitled ‘Village Life’.

In 1987, both Herbie’s and Foday’s bands joined forces to record ‘Jazz Africa’, a live concert which was released as a CD and video.

Foday also has a long history of collaboration and performance with renowned composer Philip Glass. In 1985 they co-wrote the soundtrack for the movie ‘Powaqqatsi’, and in 1990 co-wrote the music for a revival of the Jean Genet play ‘The Screens’.

In 2004 they collaborated on the music for ‘Orion’, a concert work commissioned by the Cultural Oympiad which premiered in Athens Greece preceding the Olympic Games. Since the early 1990’s, Foday and Philip have performed in concerts together at venues all over the world, including Carnegie Hall, and Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Barbican Center in London, and the Melbourne Arts Centre.

In addition, Foday has worked closely with the Kronos Quartet, an ensemble who commissioned him to compose five works. ‘Tillyboyo’ (Sunset) was released on their 1992 CD ‘Pieces of Africa‘. Foday and Kronos have performed together at venues such as Lincoln Center in New York, Staatsoper Opera House in Vienna, and the Royal Festival Hall in London.

From 2003-2005, Foday and Jack De Johnette toured extensively together and recorded 2 CDs, ‘Music from the Heart of the Masters‘ and ‘Ripple Effect’.

In 2008, Paul Simon invited Foday to perform with him in ‘American Songs’, a weeklong musical retrospective at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Also in 2008, Foday composed music for the acclaimed Susan Cohn Rockefeller documentary about Dr. Rick Hodes work in Ethiopia, titled ‘Making the Crooked Straight’, due to be released on HBO in 2010.

Discography:

Kora Music from Gambia (Folkways, 1970)
Mandingo Griot Society (Flying Fish, 1979)
Mighty Rhythm (Flying Fish, 1982)
Hand Power (Flying Fish, 1984)
Mandingo Featuring Foday Musa Suso – Watto Sitta (Celluloid, 1984)
Sound-System, with Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1984)
Village Life, with Herbie Hancock (Columbia, 1985)
Mansa Bendung (Flying Fish, 1986)
The Dreamtime (CMP, 1988)
Jazz Africa, with Herbie Hancock (Verve, 1985)
Music from “The Screens”, with Philip Glass (Point Music, 1992)
Off World One, with Possession & African Dub (Sub Meta, 1995)
Jali Kunda: Griots of West Africa & Beyond (Ellipsis Arts, 1996)
Music from the Hearts of the Masters, with Jack DeJohnette (Golden Beams, 2005)
Hybrids, with Jack DeJohnette’s The Ripple Effect (Golden Beams, 2005)
The Two Worlds (Orange Mountain Music, 2008)
Koralations: Heart to Heart, with Gretchen Rowe (2012)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.

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