Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko Africa to Appalachia

Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko Africa to Appalachia
Africa to Appalachia is that rare example of a musical exploration going perfectly, a cultural summit that sounds vibrant and seamless for all the right reasons. An exceptional banjo player, Jayme Stone’s intrigue about the origins of his axe eventually led him to West Africa. While many continue to associate the instrument with bluegrass music of the American south, Stone was surprised to discover that its earliest incarnation could be traced back to the African continent. Soon after, he met and began collaborating with famed Malian griot Mansa Sissoko, and the first result of this fortuitous union is a record containing intoxicating jazz, folk and Malian pop textures. Comprised of original compositions by both men and traditional songs arranged by Stone, Africa to Appalachia is a joyfully sincere record, from front to back. Songs like "Bibi” and "Tunya” possess an infectious groove, prompting guitar, banjo and kora to swing under the most prominent presence: the lead vocals of Sissoko and Katenen Dioubate. While voices strongly characterise these compositions, they also propel the instrumentalists in unique ways on "From Tree to Tree” and "Yelemane,” enabling adventurous interplay and fostering a lively meeting between distinct yet inherently similar musical styles.

What inspired your historical investigation of banjos?
Jayme Stone: Listening to West African music, I became deeply curious about what kinds of music hadn’t made it across the ocean on slave ships headed west in the 1700s and 1800s. I’m studious by nature and took to learning everything I could, transcribing ngoni, kora, balafon and guitar music. It seemed essential to be well versed in traditional griot music before collaborating with Mansa.

How did the musical arrangements come about?
I spent weeks in Quebec City rehearsing with Mansa, developing our repertoire and honing arrangements. It all happened on "African time,” meaning we played day in and out, letting the arrangements grow organically. I’m more accustomed to talking things out and writing things down but because Mansa comes from an oral culture, he needs to do things in real time. Everybody else brought their insights and brilliance to the sessions.

How significant are the vocals?
Mansa is a walking encyclopaedia of rare songs and the lyrics all have such gravity. Even if you don’t understand Malinke or Bambara, there are meanings and mysteries in the human voice that everyone can feel. The vocals also open up an [imaginative] space for the instruments to play inside of. (Independent)