PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko: Africa to Appalachia

The kora, with its lacelike and intricate patterns of notes, is the more attention-catching instrument, and you could easily forget that this album is a partnership and start to think of it as a Mansa Sissoko project.

Jayme Stone and Mansa Sissoko

Africa to Appalachia

Label: self-released
US Release Date: 2008-07-15
UK Release Date: Unavailable

As I put this CD on, I thought of Soul Science, another album that came out of a partnership between a West African and a Western musician. Released in the US only a few months ago, it was still fresh in my mind. On Soul Science, the Westerner (Justin Adams) was a blues guitarist from the UK, and the African (Juldeh Camara) played the single-stringed ritti fiddle. Here on Africa to Appalachia, the Westerner is a Canadian, Jayme Stone, who plays the banjo, and the African comes from Mali and plays the kora.

"I spent seven weeks in Mali researching the banjo's African roots," Stone reports in the liner notes. In Mali, he met Mansa Sissoko, "a walking encyclopaedia of Malian music." Then Sissoko moved to Quebec. This album came afterwards. Its mixed African-Canadian-American provenance is apparent in the notes. It is likely the only kora-banjo album in the world to incorporate a song named after the capital of Mali and created during a jam session "at the Holiday Inn in Boulder, Colorado."

So, I was expecting something like Soul Science, but with a banjo and a kora. In Soul Science, the partnership ruled the album -- you were always aware of both the guitar and the ritti, and the pair of them sparred at the front of each song. Sometimes a third man joined in on percussion. The credits on the back of Africa to Appalachia list nine musicians aside from Sissoko and Stone, a much larger group than the trio on Soul Science, but, still, I thought: the rest of them will probably not appear very much at all, they'll sidle in here and there, contribute a bar or two, then vanish, leaving Stone and Sissoko centre stage.

That is not what I heard. Africa to Appalachia has the sound of a group, an ensemble, not a duo. The banjo doesn't spar with the kora, there isn't the grab and attack of Soul Science. Instead, the two instruments go along almost in tandem, or at least in sympathy. Plucked string obliges plucked string. The kora bubbles and trickles and the banjo sits with it, keeping time, or forming complementary spaces. The kora, with its lacelike and intricate patterns of notes, is the more attention-catching instrument, and, as many of the songs follow a West African sound rather than an American bluegrass sound, you could easily forget that this album is a partnership, and start to think of it as a Mansa Sissoko project. Mansa Sissoko and Friends, you'd think. Or Mansa Sissoko and Casey Driessen and Friends. Dreissen's Americana fiddle is the one instrument that rams headlong up against the kora, shadow-boxes it, flies away on its own, returns, flirts, bumps heads, frisks its drawling, tangy, bowed notes against the pling and pluck of the rest. When it goes away, then the surface of the music is often subtly worked, dependent on the interplay between similar sounds. In "Dakar", the unsawn strings swarm together like bees in a hive, crawling in and out, a sort of melodious vibration. The noise is lightly sensuous.

There is effective singing from Sissoko and striking singing from Katenen Dioubate, a Guinean vocalist in the griot style. Like Sissoko, she is resident in Canada. His voice is plainer than hers, straightforward, and not as strong, yet they make a good team. Together, in one menacing song called "Tree to Tree", they sound as if they're telling old ghost stories while the instruments whine and shiver in the background. On "Kaira Ba", he's a roughness to her purity. He sings, she sings, the percussion rotates, strings come in, the kora and the banjo tumble over one another. Africa to Appalachia is a nicely complicated album, an appealing surface with a lot going on underneath.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.