Formed in Chicago, USA, in 1977 by the Gambian kora player Foday Musa Suso (b. 9 December 1953, Banjul, Gambia), the Mandingo Griot Society were a flexible line-up of like-minded African, Caribbean and American musicians who played a fusion of rock, funk, reggae and traditional Gambian styles, and who did much to foster the spirit of stylistic eclecticism and multicultural collision then emerging amongst avant garde Western musicians and audiences. Their music was both lyrical and irresistibly danceable and, unlike so many subsequent fusion attempts, retained the rough edges of its many constituent styles rather than attempting to make them blandly acceptable to mainstream listeners. In addition to the Western instruments of bass, guitar and kit drums, the group employed a wide range of ethnic instruments, including the West African dusungoni (seven-stringed hunter’s harp), bala (xylophone), djembe (hand drum), bolon (three-stringed warrior’s harp), dundungo (bass drum), tamo (talking drum) and, of course, Suso’s kora (21-stringed harp). North Indian tabla drums and Afro-Cuban timbales, bongos and congas were also employed from time to time.
Aside from Suso, key members of the group included percussionist Adam Rudolph, who had previously played with numerous jazz, Latin, and new music ensembles, including Chevere, Streetdancer, Eternal Wind, and Detroit’s Contemporary Jazz Quintet. He had also performed in Europe and the USA with trumpeter Don Cherry. Drummer Hamid Drake had been an important part of numerous Chicago jazz and R&B groups, working with Muhal Richard Adams, Douglas Ewart and George Lewis. He had also toured Europe and West Africa with Don Cherry. Bass player Joseph Thomas and guitarist John Markiss had previously worked together in bands led by Sun Ra, Lonnie Liston Smith and Peter Tosh, and in Tower Of Power and Earth Wind And Fire. Mandingo Griot Society recorded two outstanding albums before disbanding in 1983. Suso then moved to New York to work with Bill Laswell and Herbie Hancock, while the other members subsequently pursued solo and guest artist careers on the Chicago jazz and R&B scenes.