Foday Musa Suso is a Mandingo griot
(the griot is the hereditary musician/oral historian of the Mandingo people).
He is a virtuoso kora player, drummer, and composer. Suso was born in
the Sarre Hamadi Village, Wuli District, in the West African nation of
Gambia. Initially taught by his father, at the age of eleven Suso was
sent away to study under a master kora player, Saikou Suso, of the Pasamasi
Village. After undergoing seven years of rigorous study, at age eighteen
he became a full-fledged griot.
He then journeyed throughout Africa
singing traditional Mandingo songs, and played clubs, concerts, and radio
and television programs in Germany, France, Sweden, and Finland. From
1975 through 1977 he held the post of Kora Instructor at the Institute
of African Studies, University of Ghana. In 1977, Suso established
himself in the United States, founding the Mandingo Griot Society where
he taught jazz musicians to play new arrangements of Mandingo music. Their
first record featured the late American jazz musician Don Cherry.
In 1984, the organizing
committee of the Olympic games approached Herbie Hancock for the composition
of the official theme music for the field events. Wanting to evoke the
roots of man, Herbie turned to Suso. Their collaboration resulted in the
rousing "Junku," and continued with Suso composing for Herbie's
next album, "Sound System," and later with the highly acclaimed
duet album, "Village Life."
Suso was a featured
instrumentalist on the Philip Glass soundtrack for the film Powaqattsi,
and collaborated with Glass on the score for the American premiere of
Jean Genet's The Screens, which opened at Minneapolis' Guthrie
Theater in the fall of 1989, and was recently released on Glass' Point
Music label for Philips.
Suso has toured with
the Kronos String Quartet and their recordings are part of the Pieces
of Africa release on the Elektra Nonesuch label.
Music excerpt: Mr. Suso #2 with Reflection
performed by the Philip Glass Sensemble with Foday Musa Suso
Nonesuch 979192-2 (c) & (p) 1988 Electra/Asylum/Nonesuch Records