Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko

Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko


Juno Award winning banjoist Jayme Stone and Malian griot singer and kora player Mansa Sissoko build a boundary-crossing musical bridge from Africa to Appalachia on their new collaborative album. Winner of the 2009 Juno Award for Best World Music Album of the Year.


In Search of the African Banjo:
A Polyrhythmic Journey to Mali and Back Again

Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko Reconnect Africa and North America:
Or is it the Other Way Around?

While on his musical mecca to Africa, Jayme Stone rarely let locals know of his accolades and burgeoning recording career in North America. He went to immerse himself in the high-spirited soundscapes, the daily life and lore of Africa. What he came home with was knowledge of two banjo ancestors never revealed before in the West, aspects of African music that eluded its American counterparts, and musical friendships that reach across continents.

“I played very little occidental music,” Stone recalls about his seven-week Malian adventure, “and was more intent on learning their craft. They thought I was some curious traveler with an ngoni that had gone through the industrial revolution. I ate with my hands out of communal bowls, braved the local transportation, and learned music on their terms.”

Though he began searching for the banjo’s surviving ancestors, the Canadian virtuoso became curious about what aspects of African music did not make it across the ocean with slavery. “The culture of slavery in North America, which nobody likes to talk about, was clearly not the best context for an authentic and meaningful cultural transmission of music,” Stone explains. “I wanted to find out how music is made on their turf.”

This project was a long time in the making. An auspicious four years before setting foot on Malian soil, Stone met Mansa Sissoko, a griot singer and a unique voice on the kora (a 21 string African harp). Stone soon realized that Sissoko was a walking encyclopedia of Malian songs, many of them learned from his mother, a griot singer from the town of Baleya. “The griot is someone who is there to play the role of blood in the society, for the society to live,” says Sissoko. “He gives life to the society, musically, using carefully chosen words.”

“With little common language between us, we turned to music for communication,” Stone recalls of his first meeting with Sissoko. “This tangible heart-to-heart connection was there immediately and I knew that he was the perfect collaborator for the project. African music is not designed to be analyzed. It is learned by doing, by immersing yourself in the sound, rhythm and story. It is participatory. This quality has deeply affected my own relationship to music, compositional philosophy, teaching and audiences. I’ve become more attuned to the communal aspect of making music, particularly the powerful effect it has on our daily lives, emotional experience, sense of ritual and feeling of belonging.”

Through this deep engagement, Stone picked up other life lessons along the way. On one recent visit, Sissoko shared something his mother had instilled in him. “When you make music, you grow a light inside your body. Other people will be attracted to you, but it's not you they seek but this light. Don't mistake the two or the light will be put out.”

Stone also spent time with Mali’s premiere ngoni pioneer, Bassekou Kouyate, learning court music that dates back to the 12th century. One such song, “Bamaneyake,” sings the praises of N’dji Diarra, the once-king of Bambougo who ordered a canal to be dug from the Niger River to his village because his wife wanted to see hippos in her home town. In keeping with tradition, Sissoko chants the lineage of the king, the king’s father, and his grandfather. But he adds his own egalitarian refrain: “Ndji! You indeed are mighty, but let’s not forget that all of your friends have helped you. Praises for everyone!”

“There are all kind of things that never got imparted to the Americas,” says Stone. “Like these perpetual polyrhythms and supersonic melodies. There are hints of it in old-time music, but things got repurposed, recycled into English ballads, Irish fiddle tunes, and African-American blues. Malian music is very inviting, and you can jam along quite easily, as many people have. But once you start digging deeper and learning things note-for-note, you realize there is so much more going on.”

When not absorbing everything he could from elder musicians in Bamako, Stone could be found traveling rural Mali. Unlike most outsiders sealed safely in their Land Rovers, Stone and his guide Hamadi Traore lit out from Bamako on the overheated, overcrowded poky public bus. Snapshot: fifty travelers, forty seats, babies in aisles, and occasional stops for prayer and raw yams. They wended their way through Dogon Country, a millennia-old natural escarpment considered to be one of the geologic and anthropologic wonders of the world. “I was curious to go somewhere where I had never heard recorded music from,” Stone muses. “Every time we got to a village, I would ask if there were any musicians.”

Aside from a burgeoning tourism industry, this collection of electricity-less villages remains largely untouched by the modern world.


Jayme Stone & Mansa Sissoko
Africa to Appalachia
2009 Juno Award winner for Best World Music Album of the Year

Jayme Stone
The Utmost
2008 Juno Award winner for Best Instrumental Album of the Year

Set List

Two 45 minute sets
One 75 minute set

Featuring music from Africa to Appalachia.