Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Cheikh Lô

Cheikh Lo - Photo by Bernard Benant
Cheikh Lo – Photo by Bernard Benant

Cheikh Lô is one of the great trailblazers of African music. A superb singer and songwriter as well as a distinctive guitarist, percussionist and drummer he has personalized a variety of influences from West and Central Africa, to create a style that is uniquely his own.

Lô dedicates both his life and music to Baye Fall, a specifically Senegalese form of Islam and part of the larger Islamic brotherhood of Mouridism. Established by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba M’Becke at the end of the 19th century, Mouridism emerged from opposition to French colonialism and many fabulous stories are told of Bamba’s struggles with the authorities who feared that the rapid spread of Mouridism would inspire armed insurrection. Bamba’s closest disciple Cheikh Ibra Fall (also known as Lamp Fall) established the Baye Fall movement, and he was the first to wear the patchwork clothes and long dreadlocks that are still Baye Fall trademarks today. Cheikh Lô’s own marabout, Maame Massamba N’Diaye is said to be over 100 years old, and was a disciple of Cheikh Ibra Fall; Cheikh Lô wears his picture in a pendant around his neck.

Cheikh Lô was born in 1955, to Senegalese parents in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, not far from the border with Mali, where he grew up speaking Bambara (language of Mali), Wolof (language of Senegal) and French. His father was from a long line of marabouts. From an early age Lô was only interested in music, running away from school to teach himself guitar and percussion on borrowed instruments.

During his teens he listened to all kinds of music, especially the Congolese rumba which was popular throughout Africa. Cuban music was also all the rage in West Africa at this time, so when his older brothers started up their 78s and danced to ‘El Pancho Bravo’, Cheikh, without understanding a word, would mime exactly to the Spanish lyrics.


Cheikh Lô
Cheikh Lô


At 21 he started singing and playing percussion with Orchestra Volta Jazz in Bobo Dioulasso. The band played a variety of music from Burkina Faso and neighboring countries, as well Cuban and other styles.

In 1981 he moved to Dakar, Senegal where he played drums for the renowned and progressive singer, Ouza, before joining the house band at the Hotel Savana, drumming and singing an international repertoire.

In 1984 he moved to Paris and worked as a studio session drummer. He recalls: ”Studio – sleep – studio for two years. I love Congolese and Cameroonian music and I absorbed a lot of it during this period”. On his return to Senegal he found that his (now very long) dreadlocks made him no longer entirely welcome at the Hotel Savana so he concentrated on his own music.

Cheikh’s first cassette ‘Doxandeme’ (‘Immigrants’), on which he sang about the experience of being Senegalese abroad, came out in 1990. Despite his reservations about the quality of the local production, it sold well and earned him the ‘Nouveau Talent’ award in Dakar. The following year he started to work on the compositions for his album ‘Ne La Thiass’.

Youssou N’Dour first encountered Lô as a session singer in 1989. “Whenever he sang the choruses I was overwhelmed by his voice,” explains N’Dour, “but I really got to know him from his cassette ‘Doxandeme’. I heard his voice and said “wow” – I found something in his voice that’s like a voyage through Burkina, Niger, Mali”.

Lô continued to develop his own repertoire, holding out for better recording conditions for his next production. In August 1995 Youssou N’Dour agreed to produce the next album at his Xippi Studio in Dakar.


Cheikh Lô - Ne La Thiass
Cheikh Lô – Ne La Thiass


On this album ‘Ne La Thiass’, Lô is joined on vocals by Youssou N’Dour (‘Guiss Guiss’ and ‘Set’) and by musicians from N’dour’s Super Etoile de Dakar. Lo’s signature sound – a semi acoustic, Spanish-tinged take on the popular mbalax style – was an instant success in Senegal gaining him a dedicated local following. ‘Set’ – a plea to clean up the streets during a Dakar municipal strike, was broadcast on loudspeakers throughout the country in a campaign by the Ministry of Health.


Cheikh Lô
Cheikh Lô


Ne La Thiass was released internationally on World Circuit in 1996 and followed by a highly successful European tour. His early performances prompted rave reviews.

In 1997 he was awarded Best Newcomer at the Kora All-African Awards in South Africa and the following year he toured the US, as part of the ‘Africa-Fête’ line-up that included Salif Keita and Papa Wemba. In 1999 he received the prestigious ‘Ordre National de Merite de Léon’ from the President of Senegal.

Cheikh’s second album Bambay Gueej (World Circuit) was released in 1999. It was co-produced by Nick Gold and Youssou N’Dour in Dakar with additional recording in Havana and London. Expanding on his previous album, he drew on sounds from Burkina Faso, Mali (with guest Oumou Sangare), and incorporated touches of Cuban son (with Richard Egues on flute) and funk (with Pee Wee Ellis of James Brown fame on saxophone).

His eclectic mix was furthered on Lamp Fall (World Circuit 2005) by his discovery of Brazilian sounds and rhythms and he traveled to Bahia, Brazil to work with acclaimed producer Alê Siqueira (Tribalistas, Omara Portuondo). These Brazilian recordings were coupled on the album with sessions recorded in Dakar and London.

For the next few years Lo withdrew from the international stage and immersed himself in the Dakar scene playing regularly with his own band. This return to home is reflected in his album ‘Jamm,’ His which blends semi-acoustic flavors, including West and Central African, Cuban, and flamenco.

In 2015, Cheikh Lô received the World Music Expo (WOMEX) Artist Award.



Ne La Thiass (Saprom Productions, 1996)
Bambay Gueej (World Circuit, 1999)
Lamp Fall (World Circuit, 2005)
Jamm (World Circuit, 2010)
Balbalou (Chapter Two, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Bassekou Kouyate

Bassekou Kouyate - Photo by Robin Chanda
Bassekou Kouyate – Photo by Robin Chanda

Bassekou Kouyate is one of the true masters of the ngoni, an ancient traditional lute found throughout West Africa, and he has collaborated with many musicians in and outside of Mali. He played in the Symmetric trio alongside Toumani Diabate (kora) and Keletigui Diabate (balafon). He was part of Taj Mahal’s and Toumani Diabate’s Kulanjan project, as well as being one of the key musicians on Ali Farka Toure’s posthumous album Savane which was released July 2006. He also toured with Ali Farka Toure before Toure passed away, leaving a lasting impression on the audience as the band’s solo ngoni player.

Bassekou was born in a village called Garana, almost 40 miles from Segu, in the remote countryside on the banks of the Niger River. He was raised in a traditional musical environment, his mother a praise singer and his father and brothers exceptional ngoni players.

Bassekou moved to Bamako when he was 19 years old where he met the young Toumani Diabate. By the late 1980s Bassekou was part of Toumani’s trio and they recorded their first albums together, Songhai and Djelika.

Bassekou married the singer Ami Sacko (the so-called ‘Tina Turner of Mali’) and they have been in high demand for the traditional Sunday wedding parties that happen in the streets of Bamako. Bassekou now has his own band, Ngoni ba (meaning ‘the big ngoni’), Mali’s first ngoni quartet.

Bassekou Kouyate - Photo by Ziga Koritnik 2014
Bassekou Kouyate – Photo by Ziga Koritnik 2014

The repertoire Bassekou plays is from the region of Segu, the heart of Bambara culture. Unlike Mandinka griot music, Bambara music is pentatonic in nature, a music as close to the blues as you can get in Africa.

His debut CD, Segu Blue (Out Here Records), features guest musicians Kasse Mady Diabate, Lobi Traore, Lassana Diabate and singers Zoumana Tereta and Bassekou’s wife, Ami Sacko. The album was produced by Lucy Duran, recorded at studio Bogolan in Bamako by Yves Wernert and mixed in London by Jerry Boys.

In 2009, Seattle-based indie rock label Sub Pop licensed Bassekou Kouyate’s second album I Speak Fula. The album was the first release on their newly founded sub label Next Ambiance, a collaboration between Sub Pop Records and Jon Kertzer, presenter of the ‘Best Ambiance’ show on Seattle-based public radio station KEXP. Sub Pop/Next Ambiance released I Speak Fula throughout North America, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

In 2010, World Circuit Records released Afrocubism, an album that brought together top musicians from Cuba and Mali. The album featured renowned Cuban singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa, Bassekou Kouyate and the excellent Rail Band guitarist Djelimady Tounkara. Joining them were Eliades’ Grupo Patria, amongst Cuba’s longest running and most revered bands, kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, legendary Malian griot singer Kasse Mady Diabaté and the innovative balafon player Lassana Diabaté.

In March 2012 Bassekou Kouyate recorded his third album titled Jama ko in Mali’s capital Bamako. This coincided with the military coup that overthrew the Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure, a great supporter of Bassekou.

As expected, Bassekou was deeply affected by the rapidly changing events in his country. ”Jama ko means ‘great meeting of people’: You may be rich or poor, Muslim or Christian, let’s get together and enjoy ourselves,” said Bassekou. “There are 90% Muslims in Mali, but our form of Islam here has nothing to do with Sharia, that is not our culture. We have been singing praise songs for the prophet for hundreds of years. Mali is a free and peaceful country where you can be who you want to be.”

“Jama ko” was recorded live, with no overdubs, at studio Bogolan with a completely new band line-up including two of Bassekou’s sons, Madou and Moustapha Kouyate , and the ngoni maestro Abou Sissoko. It features a duet between Amy Sacko and Khaira Arby from Timbuktu calling for peace in Mali, Kassemady Diabate praising Sinali Diarra, a Bamana king famous for resisting forced Islamization in the 19th century, Zoumana Tereta praising the cotton farmers and the great ngoni masters who are no longer with us, Harouna Samake on kamale ngoni and an extraordinary jam with Taj Mahal singing and playing guitar backed by Mocky Salole on drums. The record was co-produced by Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire/ Hotel2Tango) from Montreal. It was released in January 2013 on outhere records.

Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba’s fourth album ‘Ba Power’ (Glitterbeat Records) is marked by the incorporation of rock-style distortion and wah wah and propulsive rhythms. The album was was produced in Mali by Chris Eckman (Tamikrest, Aziza Brahim) and it features significant guests: from Mali Samba Touré, Zoumana Tereta and Adama Yalomba; from the USA, seminal trumpet player Jon Hassell (Brian Eno, The Talking Heads, Bjork and Peter Gabriel) and rock guitarist Chris Brokaw (Lemonheads, Come, the Thurston Moore Band etc.); and from the UK, acclaimed drummer Dave Smith (Robert Plant’s Sensational Space Shifters, Fofoulah, JuJu).


Segu Blue (Out Here Records, 2007)
I Speak Fula (Out Here Records, 2009)/(Sub Pop/Next Ambiance, 2010)
Afrocubism (World Circuit Records, 2010)
Jama Ko (Out Here Records, 2013)
Ba Power‘ (Glitterbeat Records, 2015)


Artist Profiles: Djelimady Tounkara

Djelimady Tounkara
Djelimady Tounkara

Djelimady Tounkara’s name has become synonymous with Mali’s legendary Rail Band. He has seen the band through a quarter century of colorful history and constant change.

He was born in 1947 in Kita, Mali. All his adult life, Djelimady has worked to transform his ancestral traditions into dance pop. But at the same time, he has continued to work in more traditional contexts, backing the great jeli singers of Mali on records, in concerts and at the day-long wedding and baptism celebrations that are the modern jeli’s life blood.

A guitarist, Djelimady Tounkara, has been a driving force in Mali’s rich music scene since the early 1960s. The former shepherd and drummer began playing in the local ‘Orchestre’ in Kita, a town in Western Mali renowned for its musical community. He keenly absorbed the influence of Cuban and Congolese music from the radio and spent much of the 1960s building his reputation as a player in the bands Misra Jazz and L’Orchestre Nacional du Mali.

By the early 1970s he was the lead electric guitarist with the legendary Rail Band, backing first Salif Keita and then Mory Kante. They were the top band in Mali until Kante left at the end of that decade. Despite his departure, the group went on to enjoy several hit releases in the ’80s and early ’90s before their popularity dimmed.

It wasn’t until 2002 that Tounkara’s first solo album was released. Sigui showcases his remarkable finger picking skills in the context of an acoustic ensemble. Tounkara reinterprets traditional jeli tunes (songs from caste members responsible for keeping an oral history of the village or tribe) and a number of classic songs from the Rail Band years with the help of nine talented singers and instrumentalists.

His intricate guitar playing is accompanied by percussion, bass, guitar and the scrabbling notes of the ngoni, an instrument considered by many to be West African precursor to the banjo.

In recent years, Djelimady has performed in an acoustic trio called Bajourou, accompanied by another masterful jeli guitarist, Bouba Sacko, and by singer Lafia Diabate, a veteran of the Rail Band. Bajourou released one record titled Big String Theory.

Djelimady Tounkara won the BBC-3 World Music Award for Africa in 2001. Having chosen to stay close to his roots, Tounkara is now bandleader of the Super Rail Band and his style, rhythm and sense of swing has made him one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

In 2001, Djelimady Tounkara released Sigui on Indigo/Label Bleu, an acoustic album showcasing Tounkara’s love for Manding and Bambara traditions.

In 2010, he participated in the Afrocubism project, an album that brought together top musicians from Cuba and Mali. Afrocubism featured Djelimady Tounkara along with legendary Cuban singer and guitarist Eliades Ochoa and ngoni master Bassekou. Joining them were Eliades’ Grupo Patria, amongst Cuba’s longest running and most admired bands, kora maestro Toumani Diabaté, legendary Malian griot singer Kasse Mady Diabaté and skilled balafon performer Lassana Diabaté.


Big String Theory (Globe Style/Xenophile, 1993)

Sigui (Indigo/Label Bleu 2580, 2002)

Solon Kono (Marabi 46810, 2006)

Allo Bamako (Oriki Music ORK002, 2007)

Afrocubism (World Circuit, 2010)

Djely Blues (Label Bleu, 2016)


Artist Profiles: Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté

Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté with Famoro Dioubate at Cat's Cradle in North Carolina - Photo by Angel Romero
Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté with Famoro Dioubate at Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina – Photo by Angel Romero

Guitarist and singer Abdoulaye Diabaté (also known as Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté and Djoss Diabaté) was born in Kela, Mali, to the Diabaté family. A clan renowned as battlefield jelis (griots); they would accompany the warriors in battle to recount what took place. They are reputed as powerful vocalists.

Raised in the heart of the Mande tradition, Abdoulaye spent two decades performing contemporary and traditional music. His career led him to a fusion of these styles. In 1973 he joined the Tenetemba Jazz in Bamako, Mali. Later still, he was noted as the lead singer of the Koule Star Band of Kuchala.

In 1975 he moved to Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where he formed his group: Super Mande in which some of the greatest luminaries of West African music circulated as band members: Salif Keita, Mory Kante, Kante Manfila, Ousmane Kouyate and many more. In 1978, Super Mande released its first recording: Wahabia-Ke Daschi. The album was banned from airplay because the title song criticized some “marabout” religious leaders.

Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté at Cat's Cradle in North Carolina - Photo by Angel Romero
Abdoulaye “Djoss” Diabaté at Cat’s Cradle in North Carolina – Photo by Angel Romero
In 1992, he joined the famous Ballets Koteba as a singer and guitarist and toured the world playing guitar with Les Go de Koteba.

In New York since 1996, he was noted in 2002 as one of the stars of the Smithsonian Folkways compilation: Badenya, Manden Jaliya in New York City, he was featured on the cover of the album.

Since then, he has made collaborations with jazzmen Don Byron and Peter Apfelbaum and with guitarist-journalist Banning Eyre.

In 2005, under the name Djoss Diabate, he released his first American album: Haklima.

Abdoulaye Diabaté is a member of several New York City world music and African jazz collectives and bands, including Fula Flute and Source.


Wahabiadachi, with Super Mande

Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City (Smithsonian Folkways compilation, (2002)

It Is Written, with Peter Apfelbaum & the New York Hieroglyphics (2005)

Haklima (2005)

Tonight’s African Jazz Band, with Source (Completelly Nuts Records, 2006)

Stories to Tell, with Sean Noonan (Songlines, 2007)

Boxing Dreams, with Sean Noonan (Songlines, 2008)

Sara (Completelly Nuts Records, 2009)


Artist Profiles: Ali Farka Toure

Ali Farka Toure
Ali Farka Toure

Ali Farka Toure was born in 1939 in Gourmararusse (in the Timbuktu region), Mali, into the noble Sorhai family. Being of noble birth, he should never have taken up music. His family disapproved because the musician profession is normally inherited in Malian society and the right to play belongs to the musician families. However, being a man of determination and independence, once he decided to take up music, there was no stopping him.

Ali Farka Toure took up the guitar at the age of ten, but it wasn’t until about age 17 that he really got a handle on the instrument. In 1950 he began playing the gurkel, a single string African guitar that he chose because of its power to draw out the spirits. He also taught himself the njarka, a single string fiddle that was a popular part of his performances.

Then in 1956, Ali Farka Toure saw a performance by the great Guinean guitarist Keita Fodeba in Bamako. He was so moved that he decided then and there to become a guitarist. Teaching himself, Alila Farka Toure adapted traditional songs using the techniques he had learned on the gurkel.

During a visit to Bamako in the late 1960’s, artists such as Ray Charles, Otis Redding and most importantly John Lee Hooker introduced Ali Farka Toure to African-American music. At first, he thought that Hooker was playing Malian music, but then realized that this music coming from the United States of America had deep African roots.

Ali Farka Toure was also inspired by Hooker’s strength as a performer and began to incorporate elements into his own playing. During those years Ali Farka Toure composed, sang and performed with the famous Troupe 117, a group created by the Malian government after the country’s independence.

Ali Farka Toure trained as a sound engineer, a profession he practiced until 1980, when he had saved enough money to become a farmer, which is what he was until he died.

Ali Farka Toure - Photo by Thomas Dorn
Ali Farka Toure – Photo by Thomas Dorn

His recording career began in France in 1976, but that phase ended poorly, as Toure was never properly compensated. For years he followed a successful career in West Africa adapting traditional songs and rhythms in ten languages from Mali’s enormous cultural wealth. This career was combined with a life rooted in his village. While touring widely in Africa and also occasionally in Europe and the United States of America, Toure preferred the security of his village life, family and friends, crops and livestock

In 1990, Toure abandoned music in order to tend to his farm, in his native Timbuktu. His producer managed to convince him otherwise and to return to his guitar. Two years later, he recorded the famous CD Talking Timbuktu with American guitarist Ry Cooder. The album won a Grammy award.

Radio Mali was Ali Farka Toure’s first release after 1994’s Grammy Award–winning collaboration with Ry Cooder, Talking Timbuktu. Released in Europe by World Circuit in 1996, it is a lavishly packaged collection of vintage recordings made throughout the 1970s.

Despite the success with Talking Timbuktu, Ali Farka Toure wasn’t willing to leave his rice farm in Mali to record an album. Producer Nick Gold had to set up the equipment in an abandoned brick hall in Niafunke, Mali, using portable equipment and gasoline generators to compensate for the fact that Toure’s hometown had no power lines.

The crew had to wait till Farka Toure was done with his chores and ready to play the guitar. Farka Toure said: ”We were in the middle of the landscape which inspired the music and that in turn inspired myself and the musicians. . . . In the West, perhaps this music is just entertainment and I don’t expect people to understand.”

In 2004, Ali Farka Toure was elected mayor of his home town of Niafunke. Ali was extremely loyal to his homeland and spent most of his time in the area, working on his farm. Ali’s key election promised to his constituents included tackling the malaria problem, cleaning up the region, and establishing a tree planting project.

In July of 2004, Nick Gold took his World Circuit team and their longtime engineering collaborator Jerry Boys (Buena Vista Social Club) to Bamako, Mali to record In the Heart of the Moon, a collaboration between Ali Farka Toure and another giant of Malian music, kora master Toumani Diabate.

The World Circuit crew set up a mobile studio in the Hotel Mande in Bamako, overlooking the Niger River and recorded In the Heart of the Moon there in three two-hour sessions. Drawing on a body of traditional songs familiar to both men, Toure and Diabate again began without rehearsing together beforehand. Only one song required a second take-because it had been interrupted by a rainstorm.

In the Heart of the Moon was the first of a trilogy of albums Nick Gold’s label recorded at the Hotel Mande. The record also includes subtle contributions from Ry Cooder on piano and guitar; Sekou Kante and Cachaito Lopez on bass; and Joachim Cooder and Olalekan Babalola on percussion. In the Heart of the Moon won a world music Grammy in 2005.

Red and Green, released in 2005 is a double disc that collects essential vintage recordings from Ali Farka Toure, most of which were previously vinyl-only classic tracks. The Red album is the set that launched Ali’s career in the West; the Green album confirmed his status as one of Africa’s most important artists. Both albums are included complete and digitally remastered from the original tapes.

Touré recorded his last album, Savane, during his battle with bone cancer. The album, whose title translates to ‘savannah,’ reaffirms his connection with the traditional Songhai and Fulani music of northern Mali. He was joined by a small band of ngoni players, including two of his country’s best: Bassekou Kouyate and Mama Sissoko, who adapted their Mandé (southern Malian) playing to these northern styles.

Ali Farka Toure died March 7, 2006, from bone cancer. That year, World Circuit/Nonesuch released Savane.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, Ali Farka Touré was celebrated in his native Mali with a series of events over the week-end of March 5th, 2016. The events included an all-star concert in Bamako featuring Mali’s great stars, the final of a football (soccer) tournament in his honor (Touré was a huge football fan), the laying of the foundation stone for Rue Ali Farka Touré, an exhibition at the National Museum and various other events.

Ali Farka Toure’s legacy continues in the talented hands of his son, masterful guitarist Vieux Farka Toure.


Ali Farka Toure (World Circuit/Mango, 1987)

Songs from Mali (World Circuit WCD007, 1989)

The River (Mango, 1993)

The Source (World Circuit/Hannibal (1992)

La Drogue (Sonodisc, 1994)

Talking Timbuktu (World Circuit-Great Britain/Hannibal Rykodisc HNCD-1381 -USA, 1994)

Radio Mali (World Circuit/Nonesuch WCD044, 1996)

Niafunke (World Circuit WCD 054, 1999)

Red & Green (World Circuit WCD070, 2004)

In the Heart of the Moon, with Toumani Diabate (World Circuit, 2005)

Savane (World Circuit, 2005)


Documentary DVD: A Visit To Ali Farka Toure (Kultur International Films, 2006)


Artist Profiles: Eneida Marta

Eneida Marta
Eneida Marta

Captivating vocalist Eneida Marta was born in Guinea Bissau. Descending from a family of artists, especially her father, who came from Cape Verde, she started singing as a little child, working on her voice and participating in some children’s music contests.

Some years later, after moving to Portugal, she met Juca Delgado, one of the most important African music producers, and started working together, which gave her the chance of taking part in the work of some of the most important African musicians in Portugal, such as Don Kikas, Rui Sangaras, Fernando Santos (Aiaia), Aliu Bari, Punga, Iva and Ichi.

Coinciding with the release of her first album, Nestoria (Maxi Music, 2001), produced by Juca Delgado, Eneida toured Cape Verde, France, Holland, Germany, Guinea Bissau and Portugal.

As the second album became a reality, it revealed a remarkable interest by some international record companies such as Putumayo, Club Star and JPS Production. Finally with Putumayo, and with her track Na Bu Mons, Eneida took part in a compilation dedicated to the music in the former Portuguese African countries, An Afro-Portuguese Odyssey (2002). In 200,2 Eneida Marta released a second album, a maxi-single, where she pays tribute to Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde African sounds and where she also sings in Arabic, showing her multifaceted artistic side.

Eneida Marta participated in other compilations and also appeared in the albums of renowned African artists. artists.

Eneida and Juca explore a great variety of styles, gumbe, morna, singa, with some flamenco, Gospel and jazz nuances.


Nestoria (Maxi Music, 2001)
Lopekai (Iris Music, 2006)


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.


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)


Artist Profiles: Seleshe Damessae

Seleshe Damessae (also known as Sileshi Demissie and Gashe Abera Molla) is an extraordinary singer and musician from Ethiopia. He uses a complex vocal styling, sung in Amharic, his native language. He accompanies himself on the krar, a 6-string lyre which dates back to the ancient civilizations of the Nile.

Born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Seleshe Damessae began studying the krar at an early age with his father, and later attended the Yared School of Music. He spent nearly four years studying traditional Ethiopian culture in northern rural areas, and today is highly respected for his knowledge of the vocal and instrumental music of his native land.

Seleshe is also a skilled instrument maker who builds and plays a variety of folk instruments such as krars, fiddles, harps and drums. He has performed throughout the United States, Europe and Africa.

Seleshe Damessae founded the Gashe Abera Molla Association, upon returning to Addis Ababa after 20 years as a successful singer in the United States and decided to address the social and environmental problems that plagued his home city. He set up the new organization and named it after a character in his songs – Gashe Abera, the old man who takes care of his local community.


Tesfaye: a future hope (Music of the World MOW 107, 1987)
Songs from Ethiopia today (Wergo/Haus der Kulturen der Welt SM1516-2, 1993)
Sorene: Children’s Songs from Ethiopia (1999)
Yamiral Hagere (2013)


Photo by Lorraine Tipaldi


Artist Profiles: Wu Man

Wu Man
Wu Man

Wu Man is an internationally renowned pipa (Chinese lute) virtuoso. Born in Hangzhou (China), Wu Man studied at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing where she became the first recipient of a master’s degree in pipa. She currently lives in Boston (United States of America) where she was chosen as a Bunting Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute of Advanced Study at Harvard University.

Wu Man was selected by Yo-Yo Ma as the winner of the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize in music and communication. She is also the first artist from China to have performed at the White House with Yo-Yo Ma with whom she now performs as part of the Silk Road Ensemble. Wu Man has collaborated with distinguished musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma, David Zinman, Yuri Bashmet, and Cho-liang Lin.

In the orchestral world she has performed with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra, and many others. Her touring has taken her to the major music halls of the world including Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center.


Chinese Music for the Pipa (Nimbus Records NI 5368, 1993)

An Anthology of the Classic Pipa Pieces (China Record Co, EL-315, 1989)

The OverLord Removed off his Armour (China Record Co, BCD-90023, 1991)

China Collage, with Liu Sola (Avant, 1996)

Chinese traditional & Contemporary Music (Nimbus Records, 1996)

Music for the Motherless Child, with Martin Simpson (Water Lily Acoustics, 1997)

Ghost Opera, with Kronos Quartet Nonesuch, 1997)

Spring Snowfall, with Liu Sola (Also productions, 2000)

Chinese Traditional and Contemporary Music (Nimbus, 2000)

Aki no Yugure (Autumn Dusk), with Yoshio Kurahashi (Sparkling Beatnik Records, 2001)

Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet (Sony, 2002)

The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan (Smithsonian Folkways, 2002)

Posture of Reality, with Tastu Aoki – (Asian Improve Record 0065, 2003)

Pipa from a Distance (Naxos, 2003)

Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon (Sony, 2005)

Wu Man and Friends (Traditional Crossroads, 2005)

New Impossibilities (Sony Classics, 2007)

The Cusp of Magic, with Terry Riley and Kronos Quartet (Nonesuch, 2008)

Traditions and Transformations: Sounds of Silk Road Chicago (2008)

Off the Map (World Village, 2009)

Immeasurable Light (Traditional Crossroads, 2010)

Music of Central Asia, Vol. 10: Borderlands: Wu Man and Master Musicians from the Silk Route (Smithsonian Folkways, 2012)

Elegant Pipa Classics (Wind Music, 2013)

Our World in Song: An Odyssey of Musical Treasures, with Luis Conte, and Daniel Ho (Wind Music, 2014)



Artist Profiles: San Chuan

San Chuan
San Chuan

San Chuan (“Three Rivers”) is a trio of three young and energetic women, Wang Yao, Sang Ka and Liu Yu, who play the Chinese zither called zheng. Founded in autumn 2008 and based in the Chinese capital Beijing, the trio is presenting captivating compositions of contemporary Chinese music.

The three musicians, Xia Jing, Wen Ting and Sang Ka are all trained on the zheng since their early childhood. The ensemble performed at World Music Expo WOMEX 2009 in Copenhagen and Europalia-China in Brussels (the biggest Chinese arts festival ever held outside of China).

The zheng, a Chinese zither with 21 strings, is one of the most popular instruments in China. Its tuning is essentially pentatonic. Bending notes by pressing the open end of strings is one of the main sound features of this great instrument. The rather unusual combination of three zheng shows a stunning result, as they unfold an exceptional, almost orchestral soundscape.