Most days when Gambian kora player, Salieu Suso performs, he is entertaining and educating all at once. He has since branded most of his gigs as edutainment. Suso, 45, has been playing the kora, a 21-string African harp-lute, since he was eight years old.
"I come from a long line of musicians. By 13, I wanted to be a professional kora player. My first professional job was a wedding ceremony. I got paid with sheep, clothing and 50 dalasi," he said. Dalasi is the monetary unit of the Gambia.
Suso grew up on a rural farm in Kerewan, Gambia, far from the urban capital Banjul. His father was a kora teacher and his grandfather had also been a Madinka Griot.
Suso said one of his first toys was a six-string kora. Koras are the main instruments of the Griots, the traditional keepers of history. They use the kora as the only accompaniment to narration and songs, often improvised, that honor great patrons and recount historical events.
After several years trying to make it in Italy, Germany and Greece, Suso landed in the Big Apple in 1989, like many other African dreamers, and began his quiet revolution. Of course like many before him, he had to delve in business, importing and exporting threads and shoes to make ends meet.
But he soon joined the band of Ladji Camara, one of the most respected and gifted percussionists ever to come from Africa to America, and pushed his way through into performing for pay.
"Through him I got to know a variety of people and I became known as the kora player in New York City," he said. The sound of kora is very melodic. "A lot of time people intend to have just the kora so they can have the sense of the sound," he told The AFRican. While Suso, performs with bands and records music for many artists, he performs a lot at museums, weddings, graduation ceremonies and naming ceremonies as a solo artist.
Most weekends though, he is performing with a 15-piece band. The art form has driven him to want to ensure that the entire world knows what a kora is and experiences its joyous and mesmerizing sounds. Suso has recorded one album Griot Salieu Suso Kora and is in the studio finishing up a second, due out later this year.
I want to teach kora here in this country and blend African music flavor to the western, he said. Suso is married to a fellow musician and has two teenage sons who already play the kora.
Suso can be reached in New York City at 718-901-4640 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.