Foday Musa Suso was born in the Sarre Hamadi Village, Wuli District, in the West African nation of Gambia. He is a Mandingo jali from the Gambia in western Africa. A jali is a hereditary master musician, oral historian, praise singer, composer and keeper of Mandingo tribal traditions.
Since 1968, Musa Suso has traveled and performed throughout Africa, Europe and North America, bringing Mandingo music to people of all races and cultures.
Musa Suso established himself in the United States, founding the Mandingo Griot Society in 1977, where he taught jazz musicians to play new arrangements of Mandingo music. Their first record featured the late American jazz musician Don Cherry. The Society gained an enthusiastic following both in the United States and Europe, and helped lay the groundwork for the current surge of interest in African music.
In 1984, Musa Suso colloborated with Herbie Hancock and composed "Junku," which was used as the Olympic Games official theme music. Suso continued working with Hancock and collaborated with him on "Sound System" and later the highly acclaimed "Village Life."
Musa Suso was also a featured instrumentalist on the Philip Glass soundtrack for the film Powaqattsi, and collaborated with Glass on the score for the American premiere of Jean Genet's The Screens. He has toured with the Kronos String Quartet and their recordings are part of the Pieces of Africa release on the Elektra Nonesuch label.
In 1996 Foday Muso Suso returned to West Africa, visiting Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, and his native village in Gambia along with maverick producer Bill Laswell and a recording team to visit the jelis and record their songs. An album titled Jali Kunda was recorded featuring traditional pieces with the spirited jeli singers accompanied by various combinations of bala, drums, and kora.